Onnoghen: I didn’t confess to hiding my bank accounts
The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has scheduled judgment for Thursday in the trial of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen. Onnoghen is being tried on a six-count charge in which he is accused of breaching the Code of Conduct for public officers by allegedly making false declaration of assets and also failing to declare some.
He denied confessing to hiding his bank accounts. The prosecution insisted that his guilt had been proven. CCT’s Chairman Danladi Umar announced the judgment date yesterday after lawyers to the prosecution and defence adopted their final written addresses. Umar said the court will also, on April 18, deliver two rulings earlier reserved on two applications filed by the defendant, one of which is challenging the tribunal’s jurisdiction; the other is querying his competence as the tribunal chairman to preside over the case.
Proceedings began yesterday on a dramatic note when the second most senior member of the prosecution team, Prof Zainab Duke, disagreed with the team’s leader, Aliyu Umar (SAN). Shortly after the announcement of appearances by both the prosecution and defence teams, Umar stood up to address the tribunal. But, before Umar could say anything, Prof. Duke also indicated her intention to speak, raising her hand – a move the lead prosecution lawyer objected to.
Duke, who was bent on addressing the tribunal, rose to her feet and reached for the microphone, but Umar, who moved the microphone from her reach. Umar, who told Prof Duke that it was improper for her to speak while she was being led by a senior colleague, later applied to the tribunal to delete her name from the prosecution team’s list of lawyers.
In a brief ruling, the tribunal’s chairman acceded to Umar’s request and deleted Prof. Duke’s name from his record. The CCT chairman noted that it was not permitted for two lawyers to speak for a party during proceedings. He said Prof. Duke, could only communicate through Umar, except with approval of her lead counsel, after obtaining the permission of the tribunal.
He faulted the prosecution’s claim that the defendant confessed to the offence when, in his written statement, he said he forgot to declare some of his assets, particularly some bank accounts. Efut said: “It is true in ordinary parlance that once a person says he did something, that is admittance. But, confession in law is different from confession in general parlance. “When the defendant said he forgot, he did not mean he confessed. We are submitting that there has been no confession at all. There is no admission of guilt. Confession, in law, means admission of guilt.”
Efut argued that the charge was incompetent because it was brought under Section 15 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal (CCB/T) Act, which, he said, has been found to be in conflict with Paragraph 11 of the 5th Schedule to the Constitution.
He added: “The charge ought to have been brought under Parapgraph 11 to the 5th Schedule to the 1999 Constitution. The section under which the charge is prepared is unconstitutional and null and void. “The elements of the offence, which the prosecution attempted to prove are as it relate to the Act (CCB/T Act). They failed to prove the elements or ingredients as contained in the 5th Schedule of the 1999 Constitution. “If they do not know the ingredients of the offence, they could not have proved it. They acted in ignorance. “We urge that the charge be dismissed, because the prosecution has not proved beyond reasonable doubt the ingredients or elements of the offence.”
Efut also faulted the prosecution’s claim that the defendant made false declaration of assets, insisting that Onnoghen fully complied with the law by declaring his assets as required. He referred to page 13, paragraph 27 of the prosecution’s final written address, where he said the prosecution argued that “the failure or refusal of the defendant to give information on the accounts is partially false”.
Efut argued that for the prosecution to have said the defendant’s action was partially false “means that it is partially true and, therefore, cannot be false”. He went on: “If it is partially false, it raises some doubt as to the falsity. If there is any iota of doubt, the law says it must be resolved in favour of the defendant. “On the whole, we urge that this six-charge be dismissed, because the prosecution has failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the essential elements or ingredients of the offences.”
Countering Efut while adopting his address, Umar, urged the tribunal to hold that the prosecution has proved its case against the defendant beyond reasonable doubt. Umar equally urged the tribunal to hold that the defendant is guilty on all the six counts.
On the defence’s attack of the charge’s competence, Umar contended: “In coming to the decision whether or not a defendant is guilty, it is the hard fact that the court should look at. “It is a misconception by the defence to think the first set of charge is null and void simply because it is not elegantly drafted the way the defendant would have wanted it drafted. “They have not shown that the defendant was misled by the way the charge was drafted. It is not the statute that creates an offence.”
Umar argued that there was no conflict between the provision of the CCB/T Act and the Constitution as claimed by the defence. He submitted that the prosecution had effectively discharged its responsibility under the law by establishing the guilt of the defendant. Umar argued that by evidence led, the prosecution showed that the defendant did not declare his assets as required either by the Act or the Constitution.
He faulted the defence’s contention that the defendant did not confess and argued that “it is neither the provision of the Evidence Act or case law for the suspect to tell the police that I am guilty of the offence”. “It is the action or omission that the court will consider to determine the guilt or otherwise of the defendant. “In Exhibit 6 (the defendant’s statement), if the defendant said I did not declare, because I forgot, it is for the court to decide whether or not forgetting is a defence envisaged by the Act. “In 2016, he went before a High Court judge and declared his assets, without referring to the bank accounts. “By the evidence of PW3, the accounts had been in existence from 2009 and 2010 and ought to have been declared when the defendant declared his assets in 2016. “We urge the tribunal to hold that the prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt and enter a verdict of conviction.”