19 March 2019

Nigeria: Onnoghen Charged Before Investigation Concluded, CCT Told

The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) was yesterday told that the charge of non-declaration of assets filed against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen was instituted before an investigation was concluded.

Justice Onnoghen had pleaded not guilty to the 6-count charge filed against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) before the CCT.

At the resumed hearing of the case yesterday, a senior investigator with the CCB, James Akpala, told the tribunal that the petition that led to the investigation was delivered to the CCB on January 9 at about 11:00 am and that it was forwarded to him for action on January 10. He said on January 11, the team contacted Standard Chartered Bank for records of accounts of the defendant and that the defendant was visited in his office where he made a statement to the team on the same date.

Under cross-examination by Onnoghen's counsel, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), the witness read from exhibits before the court that the application to prefer a charge against the defendant, the list of witnesses and exhibits and the six-counts charge were dated January 10, the same date the case was referred to him for investigation.

He confirmed that as of January 10, the statement of the defendant had not been taken. He also confirmed that the team concluded its assignment on January 11.

Asked if he doesn't consider it unprecedented and strange that the investigation was concluded and charges filed within 24hours, he said, "I cannot answer that".

Asked if he told Justice Onnoghen that a charge had already been filed against him as at the time his statement was being taken, the witness said, "I am an investigator, I do not work with the department that files charges."

"At the time the defendant recorded his statement at about 12:30 to 1:45 pm, the team had no idea that a charge had been filed against the defendant.

"As at about 2:00 pm when we got back to our office, we have not written our report. We finished the report at about 2:45 pm. The report was addressed to the Deputy Director, Intelligence, Investigation and Monitoring Unit, who got the report at about 3:00 pm," the witness added.

Asked if he would be surprised to find out that at about that 3:00 pm when the report was submitted, the tribunal had already granted leave to file charges against the defendant, he said, "My Lord, I cannot answer the question."

The witness said the investigating team did not involve the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in its work, adding however that he did not know why the defendant's bank documents tendered in court were addressed to the EFCC.

Earlier, while being led in evidence by the prosecution, Aliyu Umar (SAN), the witness narrated how the bureau received and investigated a petition against the suspended CJN.

He said on January 10, he received a directive from his superior, Samuel Madujemu, who directed that he should investigate a petition written by one Chief Dennis Aghanya of the Anti-corruption and research-based data initiative against Justice Onnoghen.

He said during an examination of the documents gotten from Standard Chartered Bank, the team realised that the account opening package was incomplete and the account officer, Ifeoma Okagbue, was notified. She was said to have brought the complete documents on March 6.

On how Justice Onnoghen was confronted with the petition, the witness said, "On January 11, at about 12noon, the team visited the defendant at his office at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Abuja. We met his secretary, Jane Esu Edu, who led us to him.

"He read through the petition and gave an oral explanation to the team concerning the allegations contained in the petition. My superior, Samuel Madujemu asked him if he was willing to record his oral explanation in writing or the team should go and come back some other time. The defendant said he was willing to record his oral statement.

"He brought out a plain paper but the team informed him that CCB has a cautionary form for statements and he was informed that he needs a witness to observe the writing of the statement who could be a lawyer or a reputable person. The defendant called his secretary, Jane Esu Edu, to witness the statement. She sat beside him and the defendant recorded his statement in his own handwriting."

Other members on the team according to him include Abu Simon Isaac, Deputy Director of CCB's Intelligence, Investigation and Monitoring Department and Samuel Madujemu, the Assistant Director of the same department.

Justice Onnoghen's assets declaration forms, his bank opening documents and statement, as well as the petition that gave birth to the charge were all tendered and admitted as exhibits.

Meanwhile, the tribunal has adjourned further hearing in the case to Thursday, March 21. This followed an application for adjournment by the prosecution counsel.

The prosecution said he had applied for a subpoena to be issued to compel the appearance of the staff of Standard Chartered Bank as a prosecution witness. He also said he was informed that the defendant would be appearing before the National Judicial Council (NJC) on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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