…Orders forfeiture of N26.8m, $56,000, 13, 000 pounds
…Sacks him as CJN & chairman NJC
…Bars him from holding public office for 10 years
Andrew Orolua, Abuja
Hammer of justice on Thursday fell on the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, as the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), in Abuja, convicted him on all the six count for misconduct and removed him from office as well as chairman of the National Judicial Council, (NJC).
The tribunal also ordered the forfeiture of his money found in his five accounts with the Standard Chartered Bank Abuja that did not declared as his asset.
It also barred Justice Onnoghen from holding any public office for a period of ten years starting from Thursday, April 18, 2019.for ten years for contravening the Code of Conduct Bureau act.
Delivering judgement in a six count false asset declaration and non-assets declaration brought against Onnoghen, Chairman of the Tribunal, Danladi Yakubu Umar held that the admission by Onnoghen that he forgot to declare the bank accounts in the form CCB001 was a clear contravention of Section 23 of the CCB and CCT Act.
Umar held that the prosecution through the witnesses and exhibits tendered and admitted had established beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant (CJN)was in grave error by his failure to declare the bank accounts as required by law.
By the pronouncement of the Tribunal, Onnoghen has forfeited to the federal government the sum of N26.8 million, $137, 700 and 13, 730 pounds sterling found in his domiciliary accounts with the Standard Chartered Bank which were said to have been maintained since 2009.
Umar, in the unanimous judgment said that the Tribunal ordered the forfeiture of the various currencies in the accounts because Onnoghen did not disclose or explain the sources of the money during the trial.
The federal government had, in January 10, 2019 filed a six-count charge bordering on false declaration of assets against Justice Onnoghen and called three witnesses during trial to prove its case against the defendant.
The tribunal overruled the claim of Onnoghen that he could not be tried by the tribunal on the account of his being a serving judicial officer, who’s misconduct, if any can only be investigated by the National Judicial Council (NJC) and punished before he can be tried.
The tribunal chairman contended that Onnoghen was arraigned before him as a public officer and not as a judicial officer and as such, the Tribunal is not under the obligation of the NJC.
The tribunal reversed itself on its earlier decision on justice Sylvester Ngwuta on the ground the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria cannot be subject to any law or rules of the NJC.
Although, Onnoghen had prayed the chairman of the tribunal to excuse himself from participating in the proceedings on account of being bias and having issues with the EFCC on the N10 million bribery allegation by one Taiwo Owolabi, Umar said that he could not step down from the trial because the EFCC has in two separate letters exonerated him from the bribery issue after its thorough investigation.
The CCT boss also said the issue of bias raised by Onnoghen against him was not established as required by law.
“The admission by the defendant in his own handwriting that he forgot to declare the five bank accounts in his asset declaration form CCB001 amounts to a partial confession that the defendant has breached the provision of the CCB/CCT Act as it amounts to refusal to declare assets.
“In the present case, hard facts have been adduced by the prosecution to establish that the defendant is in crystal clear of breach if the CCB provisions and the prosecution has there for discharged the burden placed on it by law.
“Having examined the case of the prosecution against the defendant, this Tribunal has come to a conclusion that the defendant falsely declared his assets as is hereby found guilty of contravention of Section 23 of the CCB/CCT Act.
“It is hereby ordered that the defendant be removed as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and as chairman of the National Judicial Council.
“He is also barred for ten years from holding public office while the money in the five undeclared bank accounts is hereby seized, confisticated and forfeited to the federal government, having been illegally acquired, since the defendant did not disclose their sources”, Umar said.
However, in a sharp reaction to the Tribunal’s decision, Onnoghen counsel, Okon Nkanu (SAN) faulted the judgment in its entirety, while accusing the Tribunal of bias and convicting his client on a non-existing offence.
According to him, “Today, we have heard that the CJN has been convicted and sentenced. The conviction is out of order, unconstitutional and a breach of fair hearing because before this day, on the 23rd of January, the same judgment has been passed.
“Removing the CJN without a fair hearing was premeditated. Judgment has been passed before today. So, today’s judgment was just a formality and we hold a view that the tribunal has not only breached the constitution of Nigeria, it has also breached the fundamental principles of natural justice, equity and fair hearing and good conscience.
“He has been convicted for an offense that was never charged. This is an erosion of the fundamental principle of our constitution and until some questions are answered, for instance, why is that a due course of justice was not allowed to flow?
“Why was judgment passed on January 23 before today Removing the CJN? Why is it that today, even after he has tendered his notice of retirement voluntarily and NJC has taken position, why is it that the tribunal has gone ahead to pass judgment in total disregard of the independence of the NJC and in total disregard to the power of the Senate in this matter.
“We hold a view that the tribunal, having reversed even itself in the case of Justice Ngwuta has breached the principles that hold us together.
“It is a sad day in our nation’s democracy, and we know that all is not over with this matter.
The wheel of justice grinds slowly but surely, this is not the matter that will end here, we shall avail ourselves of all the process and hierarchy of the judiciary and we know that the judiciary will redeem itself, even though seriously battered and bruised.
“The judiciary will do justice. Justice has not been done today but surely, it would be done tomorrow, if not by our court, justice would be done by God. That is our position in this matter,” Nkanu said.
Also in his reaction, counsel to the federal government, Musa Ibrahim Umar said, “judgement has been given and we are okay with it. That is all I can say for now.”