By Nwangwu Uba
Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice f Nigeria, CJN, who was suspended by President Muhammadu of the ruling All Progressive Congress, last on January 23, 2019,heeaved a sigh of relief as Danladi Umar, a Senior of Nigeria , SAN, and Chairman of three -man Code of Conduct tribunal, CCT, on Thursday ,April 18, 2019, to gave the final Judgment on the alleged false declaration of Assets and other charges leveled against him.
the CCT members may have reached the agreement on the date for the Judgment after the Prosecution led by Aliyu Umar and the Defense Lawyer Okon Effiong Efuk , both SAN, adopted their final addresses to the Tribunal. Analysts believe that the conclusion of the trial would pave the way for the appointment of a substantive CJN by the President.
Prior to the adoption of the date for the Judgment on the Onnoghen’s trial, the National Judicial Council, NJC, had stepped into the matter to look into the various petitions against the suspended CJN and Tanko Ibrahim muhammed, the acting CJN. The NJC, did not hesitate in asking the Cross River state -born CJN, to tender his letter of resignation to the President, preparatory to the appointment of a new CJN or confirmation of Justice Muhammed, the acting CJN. A s at press time , it was not clear whether the embattled CJN has resigned or not.
Femi Adesina, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity , has said that there have not been any of such resignation letter from the suspended CJN to the President. He was very emphatic when he said ” if there is any of such letters, the President will draw my attention to it”, an indication that he is at the mercy of the President to accept the resignation or fire him.
The question on the lips of most people is : will he be restored be restored to his office if he is cleared of the six count charges levelled against him by the petitioners. Recall that that the President had said that he was suspended from office ”pending the final determination of the cases against him at the CCT and several other fora relating to his alleged breach of the Code of Conduct for public officers”.
Note that in the course of the trial , the former CJN, had volunteered information that he forgot to fill his Asset Declaration Form. Efuk , the defense Lawyer may have known the implication of the confession by his client that pleaded with members of the tribunal that it should not be used against him in giving the final judgment . Giving his understanding of the Law, he noted that ”Confession is not a straight forward thing as writing and that he forgot did not amount to an admission of guilt”. He faulted the sic count charges leveled against the suspended CJN, for not ”following the element of an offence as created by law”.
According to him, Aliyu Umar, the Prosecution Lawyer, has failed to substantiate the elements of the offence commited by the CJN, as contained in the fifth schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended and thus pleaded with the Tribunal to strike out the case. The Akwa Ibom state legal luminary may have cashed in on the legal loopholes to address the Tribunal specifically on” false Asset declaration and false statement”. He noted that the provision talks about ”false statement and not a declaration”, an indication that his client was not guilty as charged by the Tribunal. The good news, according to him was that the Prosecution Lawyer had established that Onnoghen, actually made his Assest declaration . In spite of the fact that he made his assets declaration as approved by law, he lambasted the Tribunal members for failing to establish whether the” statement was true or false because it was not verified by a Verification Authority’, fueling speculation that they had a hidden agenda to implicate him of having committed fraud to facilitate his removal from office by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Efut believes he had made a good case to free the embattled CJN, but he got it wrong. Umar, the government lawyer, was said to have adopted the arguments of Efuk, the defense lawyer in his final address and submission to the Tribunal , insisting that Onnoghen, was guilty of all the six count charges leveled against him by the petitioners.
According to legal experts, the duo may have made their legal presentations to the Tribunal, but Umar and the other members of the Tribunal still have the final say. The statement by Umar, the government lawyer speaks volume. He had said that in reaching out to a decision whether person is guilty or not in a case, ”it is the hard facts before the Tribunal that will aid the determination of the direction of the Judgment”. He lambasted Onnoghen’s lawyer who think s that the charges leveled against him were null and void . The prosecution Lawyers could have such a misconception because their presentation w was elegantly drafted that it could not be faulted., describing it as a He noted that the statement by the embattled CJN that he forgot to fill his Asset declaration form was an admission of the offence.
Many believe that if the tribunal has any reason to convict him, it may not be because of the allegation of false declaration of Assets but because of the petition of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which was very revealing about his alleged illegal financial transactions both within and outside the country.
Indeed, the Commission had actually laid the provided the ammunition for the Tribunal to nail the embatled CJN. The anti-graft which may have had an insight into the suspended CJN, financial transactions as a public officer and thus, started a secret investigation on him which report was said to have submitted to the President on January 30, 2019, but submitted to NJC and the CCT as petitions. It was said to be a three years of undercover investigation on him which said to have started befire his appointment by the incumbent President in 2016 on the recommendation of Yemi Osibanjo, the vice President and subsequent Confirmation in 2017.
The anti-graft agency was said to have investigated his transactions with the Nigerian Stck Exchange, SEC, Central Security and Clearing System, CSCS, to get all the details of the high yield socks and Bond options held in the Capital Market .
It was also said to have beamed its searchlight on the country’s Discount Houses to check his transactions history in treasury bills and how such instruments were financed. They were said to have reached out to the Abuja Geographical Society , AGIS, TO Obtain the list of his properties, Vehicle Inspection Office, VIO, to know the vehicles owned by him and to the leadership of the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, to know his currency declarations for movements outside the country since he claims he travels abroad for medication.
The Commission may have gone deep into their investigation that they equally discovered that he has major investments in the ”Life Friend Plc, Agricole, Lloyds and Pur Noble which foreign Companies yielding him thousnds of dollars annually. The Companies , alone, according to the EFCC findings were said to have paid $121,116 and $482,966 respectively into his domiciliary accounts that were said to have yearly turn-over of over 55,154 Euro between 2013 and 2016. The Commission , also uncovered his choice property at Maitama, which shows his enormous wealth.
Political watchers believe that that the Commission were really out to expose his alleged Corrupt when they noted that the Cash flows into his accounts could not be justified by his monthly salary of about N751,082. 37 or yearly salary of N9,021,988.44.
Insiders told the Value News that the Tribunal members had studied the report which were very convincing, an indication that the embattled CJN , may not escape it. Indeed, he did not escape as he was convicted by the Tribunal on the six count charges leveled against him. In giving his ruling, Umar, the CCT Chairman, said the government had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspended CJN had ”breached the Code of Conduct for Public Officers”.
The Tribunal members may have taken a harsher decision on him when they ” removed him as the CJN and Chairman of the NJC and also Chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC. The Umar led Tribunal also barred him from holding public office for the next ten years.
It was not surprising why the Tribunal directed that all monies found in the accounts not declared by him in the his Asset Declaration Form between 2009 and 2015 be” seized and forfeited to to the government based on the fact that he failed to show the Tribunal how acquired the funds in that account”
The suspended CJN may not have found the Tribunal Judgment funny as he has filed an Appeal at an Abuja Court of Appeal challenging the ruling. An aggrieved Onnoghen said the CCT erred in law when ”it dismissed his application challenging its jurisdiction to hear the case and thus, occasioned a miscarriage of Justice. He had also said that the Tribunal erred in law when it his application seeking the Chairman to hands off from the case on ground of being ”bias”. He is asking the Court to” set aside his Conviction as well as discharge and acquaint him” . This is may be a difficult task for the Appeal Court to do as the Tribunal members and the Prosecution lawyer are full prepared to meet him and his defense lawyers at the Court to argue out their case.
Many believe that if he had tendered his resignation letter to the President as at the time the NJC, five- man Committee that looked into the various petitions written against him including that of the EFCC, he would not faced the Tribunal embarassment. There are indications that the Katsina state born Nigerian President would keep to CCT judgment on Onnoghen because of his insistence that the institutions must be allowed to work. Recall that it was based on the recommendation of the Tribunal that he was suspended by the President last January to facilitate his trial.
While Onnoghen was convicted on Thursday, the EFCC, may have sent a signal to other members of the bench to watch it as the Commission may come after them at any time. Take the recent case where the Commission had re-arrested Ofilli Ajumogobia , a dismissed Justice of a Federal High Court in Lagos .
Giving an insider information to the rearrested dismissed judge, Tony Oirlade, the Commission Spokes person disclosed that her troubles started when s he and one Godwin Obla, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, were arrained on a 30-count charge on November 28, 2016 for offences bordering on ”perversion of the course of Justice, graft , unlawful enrichment, providing false information and forgery”. The charges were said to have been amended to 31. That much was confirmed by Orilade, the EFCC Spokes Person.But when the case cme up for hearing last Tuesday before Justice Hhakeem Oshodi, described as a no nonsense Judge in legal circles he disappointed EFCC officials who were optimistic of having favourable Judgment.
But in his ruling , Judge had stated that based on Judicial precedent by the case of Justice Nganjiwa Vs FRN, the High Court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the suit as the EFCC has ”jumped the gun” in filing the first amended charge. This may have informed the reason why Justice Ajumogobia was re-arreted by the Commission . Orilade said the Commission had complied with the NJC, procedure , stressing that it would prefer fresh criminal charges against her.