…as Onnoghen’s lawyer, Awomolo, describes FG as accuser, investigator, prosecutor, witness, judge
The suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria(CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, yesterday, opened his defence to the allegation that he failed to declare his assets as prescribed by the law, as a witness narrated to the Code of Conduct Tribunal( CCT) how he drove Onnoghen to Code of Conduct Bureau(CCB) to submit the forms.
Onnoghen started his defence, following the decision of CCT, in Abuja, that he has a case to answer with regards to the six-count charge the Federal Government preferred against him.
FG had in the charge marked CCT/ABJ/01/19, alleged that Onnoghen’s failure to properly declare his assets was in violation of Section 15(2) of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
It further alleged that the suspended CJN operated five foreign bank accounts, contrary to the code of conduct for public officers.
The Mr. Danladi Umar-led three-member panel tribunal had in a ruling last Friday, declined to discharge and acquit the defendant, insisting that he has explanations to give with respect to the allegations.
FG had earlier closed its case after it called three witnesses that testified before the CCT. Sequel to directive of the tribunal, the embattled CJN, yesterday, said he would also call three witnesses to establish his innocence.
The driver’s story
In his Evidence-In-Chief, the first defence witness, DW-1, Mr. Lawal Busari, a driver at the Supreme Court, told the tribunal that he was the one that drove the defendant to CCB the day he collected his asset declaration form.
The witness, who said he joined the judiciary in February 1999, told the CCT that he was equally there when Onnoghen submitted the completed asset declaration forms at the CCB office in Asokoro, Abuja.
He said the forms which were issued to himself and Onnoghen on July 28, 2010, were filled and returned back to the CCB sometimes in November same year.
Mr. Busari told the tribunal that Onnoghen submitted the assets declaration form before he was appointed CJN.
Led in evidence by Onnoghen’s lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo(SAN), the witness said: “On July 28, 2010, my lordship called me to take him to the CCB office at Asokoro. When we got there, he collected assets declaration forms. After the form was given to him, he said Alhaji, are you not collecting your own?
“He said collect it and I did. We came back to the office and I filled my own too. On November 4, 2010, he gave me N200 to pay for the asset declaration form. The second day, I did my own too and paid the cashier N200 at the FCT High Court.”
Though the prosecution counsel, Mr. Aliyu Umaru( SAN), opposed the tendering of the receipt in evidence, he was however overruled by the tribunal.
The CCT Chairman admitted and marked the receipt as an exhibit in the trial.
Continuing his testimony, Mr. Busari said: “After payment at the FCT High Court, we went and submitted the forms; myself and your lordship, at Asokoro office of the CCB. It is a woman, fair in complexion, that received the form. I cannot remember her name, but she received both forms.
“The form was not acknowledged that day. The woman said we should come back to collect the acknowledgment copy.”
The witness said he subsequently went back to the CCB alone and collected the acknowledged form.
Under cross-examination, the prosecution counsel queried Mr. Busari if he was reading from a piece of paper.
Upon the admission of the witness that he was indeed holding a piece of paper in his hand, the tribunal Chairman demanded that the paper should be brought to him.
After the CCT Chairman had read through the paper, the prosecution counsel requested that it should be returned back to the witness.
Asked who wrote and gave him the paper, the witness said: “My Lord, I wrote it myself. It is my hand writing and it contained facts about me.”
Application by the prosecution to tender the paper in evidence was not opposed by the defence lawyer.
It was therefore admitted in evidence and marked it exhibit 7.
The DW-1 told the tribunal that he obtained his WAEC in 2004, adding that he also has Trade Test Certificates, Grade 1, 2, and 3.
He described Justice Onnoghen as a good man, saying he was attached to the defendant as a driver when he was still a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
“He has done so many things I can’t forget. When we went to Jos for tribunal, I wanted to go to the mosque and I told him. He asked me to take his official car, I was shocked.
“Some of the policemen standing by him said your driver? He said yes, let him go, he is going to pray for me and everybody.
“I took the car and went to mosque and came back. The second thing, anytime I am praying and he needs me, if he is informed that I am praying, he will say please don’t disturb him.”
A subpoena for CCB director
Meanwhile, Justice Onnoghen has persuaded the tribunal to issue subpoena to compel a Director at CCB, Mrs Theresa Nwafor, to appear as his second witness.
The proposed witness is currently serving at the CCB office in Edo State.
Onnoghen’s application was not opposed by the prosecution.
Mr. Umar, therefore, adjourned the case till tomorrow to enable the witness appear and give evidence in the trial.
Meanwhile, lead counsel to the CJN, Chief Awomolo(SAN), has alleged interference of the Executive Arm of government in the proceedings before the CCT.
Awomolo decried that framers of the 1999 constitution omitted to give attention to the need for the CCT to secure its independence, impartiality and non-interference from external forces.
He made these known in a press statement he issued after he the proceeding, decrying “a situation where the Executive arm of the Federal Government is the Custodian of the Code of Conduct for public officers and the enforcer of the Code of Conduct through the Tribunal.
“It is the appointing authority of the members of the Tribunal. In the proceedings in the Tribunal, the executive is the accuser, the investigator, prosecutor, the witness and the judge, all roll together into one.
“This is unacceptable under the Constitution that guarantees independence of the three arms of government. There is urgent need for Constitutional reform.”