…You don’t have powers to jail journalists doing their jobs, NUJ replies
…Suspended CJN makes ‘no case submission’, as FG closes its case
Bonaventure Melah and Andrew Orolua, Abuja
In a brazen show of arrogance, abuse of power and disrespect for the rights of others to practice their professions, the Chairman of the Code of Conduct of Tribunal, Justice Danladi Umar, on Thursday, threatened to imprison any journalist who misrepresents the ongoing proceedings on the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
In a reaction to what he described as some newspapers’ distortion and misrepresentation of last Monday’s proceedings of the trial, Umar said any journalist who commits such infraction again might have to remain in prison until his retirement in 28 years’ time.
But in a swift response, the Nigeria of Journalists (NUJ), Abuja chapter, said that Danladi’s threat is vague and empty, as he has no such powers to imprison journalists carrying out their official assignment.
He said: “Henceforth, any journalist carrying concocted or discredited statement which is not adduced before this tribunal, I will not hesitate to bring the full weight of the law heavily on the person.
“The journalist will languish there (prison) and may remain there until I retire – that is about 28 years from now. The person will be summarily sent to prison because that is contempt. It does not matter whether the contempt is committed in facie curiae (before the court) or ex facie curiae (outside the court)”.
In his reaction, the Chairman of NUJ, Abuja Chapter, Emmanuel Ogbeche, dismissed the CCT Chairman’s threat and asked journalists to continue to discharge their duties without fear or favour.
“It is unfortunate, what is ascribed to the CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar. I do not think any journalists is misrepresenting the proceedings of the court as alleged by the Justice Umar.
“He lacks the powers to send any journalist to prison for carrying out their constitutional duties to the nation. Just as the Judge is carrying out his official duties, journalists are also constitutionally empowered to report what is going on in the court rooms,” he said.
The NUJ Chairman warned Judges not to attempt making journalists scapegoats in the show of power between the executive and judiciary, adding that the union will mobilise its members and the international community to resist any attempt to intimidate or trample upon the rights of media practitioners.
“We will mobilise and resist all attempts to intimidate journalists. They will not be made scapegoats to the political and judicial drama in Nigeria,” Ogbeche concluded.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government, on Thursday, closed its case against suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
Prosecution counsel, Aliyu Umar (SAN), closed the case against Onnoghen’s non asset declaration charges, after calling 3 out of the 6 witnesses listed for the trial.
Onnoghen is being prosecuted by the Federal Government on a six count charge bordering on alleged failure to disclose some of his assets particularly five bank accounts with Standard Chartered Bank Limited in the forms he submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
However, prosecution counsel, Umar (SAN), on Thursday, announced that the prosecution is closing its case shortly after the defendant finished the cross examination of the third prosecution witness, Ifeoma Okagbue, an official of Standard Chartered Bank.
The prosecution in its application for the trial had said it would be calling 6 witnesses to prove its case against Onnoghen. However, at the end of cross examination, the lead prosecution counsel said though they initially listed 6 witnesses for the trial, however, it would not be calling on the remaining three, adding that he is offering them to the defence for cross examination if they so wished.
But, counsel to the defendant, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), said the defence does not need the witnesses, adding that the prosecution can go ahead to close its case if it is done.
Shortly after the prosecution announced the closure of its case, Awomolo informed the tribunal of its intention to rely on Section 303 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015 to ask for no case submission.
He pleaded with the tribunal to allow him prepare a written address and urged the chairman to order the registry to make record of proceedings available to him to guide him in the written address.
The prosecution did not object to the application, prompting the tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, to make an order directing the registry to avail parties in the matter with the record of proceedings.
He also ordered that the record must be made available to the parties on Monday and adjourned hearing of the no case submission to Friday, March 29.
Okagbue in her evidence in Chief told the tribunal that Onnoghen maintains 5 different accounts with her bank in Abuja.
According to her, two of the accounts are Naira accounts, one saving and the other current, while the remaining three in Pounds, Dollars and Euro.
She disclosed that as December 2018, one of the Naira accounts had N2.6m while the other had N12.8m, the Euro account as at December 2018 had 10, 187 Euros. The Pounds Sterling accounts as at December 2018, had 13,730 Pounds while the Dollar account as at January 2019 had $56, 878.
The witness said she met the defendant (Onnoghen) once in 2015 as the account relationship manager.
Under cross examination by Chief Awomolo (SAN), Onnoghen’s lawyer, Okagbue said that the five accounts are domicile in the Wuse branch of the bank in Abuja and that Onnoghen never made any foreign transfer from the accounts.
She also confirmed that the five accounts have one Bank Verification Number (BVN). The witness however admitted that Onnoghen has a facility of $500,000 as at January, 2019 with the bank which he secured with his investment in bonds and other investments.
She further admitted that Onnoghen as a disciplined account holder was encouraged by bank to invest in profit yielding investments and that interest accruing from the investment are regularly credited to his account. She said that the bank made the investments on Onnoghen’s behalf from his account.
Earlier, the second prosecution witness, Awwal Yakassai under cross examination admitted that the two assets declaration0 forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), by Onnoghen, three years ago have till date not been verified.
Yakassai, a retired director of the CCB, when his attention was drawn to the column for remarks, admitted that no comment was made on the verification column indicating that the forms have not been verified.
Answering a question, Yakassai further confirmed from the forms that Onnoghen has only five houses contrary to allegation of 55 houses. One of the houses was said to have been sold to him by the Federal Government.