Former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, has appealed his conviction by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Thursday.
Onnoghen in his appeal filed Thursday against the judgement of the tribunal prayed the appellate court to set aside his conviction and the order of forfeiture of his assets to the Federal government made by the CCT.
The tribunal had ordered Onnoghen’s removal as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and chairman of Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC).
The tribunal also barred him from holding public office for ten years for contravening the Code of Conduct Bureau laws in asset declaration for public officers.
Onnoghen will in addition forfeit to the federal government various sums of money found in his five bank accounts with the Statndard Chartered Bank which he was said to have failed to declare.
Delivering judgement in a six count false asset declaration brought against him by the federal government, Chairman of the tribunal, Danladi 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, established beyond reasonable doubt that the convicted CJN was in grave error by his failure to declare the bank accounts as required by law.
Onnoghen is to forfeit to the federal government a sum of N26.8m, $137, 700 and 13, 730 pounds sterling found in his domiciliary account with the Standard Chattered Bank accounts which were said to have been maintained since 2009.
Reacting to the conviction, Onnoghen’s counsel, Okon Nkanu, 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 offence 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.
Onnoghen however in the appeal filed on his behalf by his lead counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), is challenging the decision of the tribunal on grounds that the tribunal erred in law when it convicted him of all the six count charge.
According to Awomolo, the CCT erred in law when it dismissed Onnoghen’s application challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the matter and thus occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice.
Awomolo argued that as at the time the charge was filed against him on January 11, 2019, he was not subject to the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
He further argued that the tribunal erred in law when it assumed jurisdiction having on January 9, 2018 in the case of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta affirmed the position of the Court of Appeal in the case of Ngajiwa and dismissed and acquitted Ngwuta of the charge.
Awomolo said the tribunal erred in law and acted out of jurisdiction when it ordered that the assets of the appellant be confiscated and therefore occasioned grave miscarriage of justice.
Part of the 16 grounds the appeal was predicted upon include the claim that the tribunal erred when it held that Onnoghen confessed to the charge framed by admission and use that as a basis to hold that Onnoghen did not declare his assets from 2005 when he was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court.
He wondered that the evidence of the defense witness did not create any reasonable doubt on the evidence of the prosecution witness that Onnoghen did not make declaration of his assets since 2005.
The appellant further wondered how the tribunal could convict him on charge of false assets declaration when the five accounts in Standard Chartered Bank were declared in 2016.
Part of the reliefs sought in the appeal however include an order setting aside the judgment of the tribunal on grounds that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the charge.
“An order holding that the tribunal ought to have recuse itself from the matter based on the allegations of bias.
“And an order discharging and acquitting Onnoghen from the charge.”