Nigeria: Onnoghen Denies Confessing to Guilt, Knows Fate Thursday

16 April 2019

The suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, yesterday told the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) that his statement to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) was not a confession to any guilt.

Onnoghen, while adopting his final written address, told the tribunal, through his counsel, Okon Nkanu Effiong (SAN), that the submission of the government by the content of Exhibit 6 (his statement to CCB) that he has confessed to the charge was unfounded in law.

"It is true that in ordinary parlance, when a defendant state or accept that he did something, it means he has admitted; but in law, it is not so simplistic or straightforward. Confession in law is not the same as that in ordinary parlance.

"Confession in law means admitting to all the essential elements of the charge. Where the defendant said he forgot or omitted, that is not a confession.

"We are submitting that there has been no confession at all. The defendant has not admitted to any guilt of the offence charged," Effiong submitted.

Also, he submitted that there was a difference between the false statement and false declaration, adding that the law made reference to false statement, while the charge against Onnoghen made reference to the false declaration.

"They (prosecution) didn't establish that there is a statement in the declaration that have been investigated and found to be false. To that extent, they still fall below the standard of prove beyond reasonable doubt.

"The totality of our submission is that this charge be dismissed because the prosecution has failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the essential elements or ingredients of the offence," he submitted.

Responding, however, the prosecution counsel, Aliyu Umar (SAN), urged the tribunal to hold that the prosecution has proven its case beyond reasonable doubt and that the defendant is guilty as charged.

On confession, Umar said "it is neither the provision of the Evidence Act nor the case law that the defendant must tell the police that he is guilty of the offence. So even at the trial, it is his actions or omission that the tribunal will consider to determine whether he is guilty or not of the offence.

"So, if in Exhibit 6, the defendant stated that he didn't declare because he forgot, it is an admittance. Whether or not forgetting is a defense is for your lordship to decide."

He added that it was a misconception by the defence to claim that the charge is null and void "simply because it is not elegantly drafted or was not drafted as the defence would have drafted the charge."

On supposed conflict of the charge with the Constitution, he said paragraph 18(1) of the 5th Schedule empowered the National Assembly to make laws as regards CCB and CCT and that was what was done.

"In any case, whether there is a conflict or not has been settled by the Supreme Court in the case of FRN vs Saraki," he added.

Umar further submitted that beyond reasonable doubt does not mean beyond any iota of doubt, saying "it is my submission that the defence cannot place on the prosecution a burden beyond what the Constitution has placed on us."

Following the adoption of addresses, the tribunal fixed Thursday, April 18, for ruling on motions before the tribunal and judgment in the substantive suit.

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