Godwin Tsa, Abuja
After calling three witnesses, the Federal government has closed its case against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, over alleged non-declaration of his assets.
This came as the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has threatened to jail any journalist who misrepresents the facts of the proceedings for 28 years.
The threat was issued by the Chairman of the tribunal, Danladi Umar, who was irked by what he described as distortion and misrepresentation of facts of last proceedings by some newspapers.
The witnesses who testified as prosecution witnesses gave an account of the events that led to the preferring of the six-count charge against the suspended jurist.
In her testimony, the third and last prosecution witness, Ifeoma Okeagbue, a staff of Standard Chartered Bank, tendered five statements of accounts belonging to Onnoghen.
Okeagbue told the tribunal that the accounts, which were opened separately between 2009 and 2010, were in Euro, Pounds, Dollar and Naira denominations.
She said the Euro and the Pounds accounts were savings, the Dollar account was current, while the two other accounts were in Naira denominations, with one being a savings account.
She said that Justice Onnoghen, was granted a loan of $500,000 by the bank in January this year adding that the loan was guaranteed by the suspended CJN’s investments in Federal government’s bonds and shares, among others.
She confirmed that the accounts in Euro, Dollar, and Pound Sterling were domiciliary accounts and not ‘foreign accounts.
Reading from the statements of the accounts earlier admitted as exhibits, Okeagbue said: “On the account 5001062686, the opening balance in January 2018 was €30,178.58.
“As at December 2018, the balance was €10,187.18.
“On account 5001062693, at January 2018, it was with an opening balance of N6,411,312.77.
“At December 2018, the balance was N12,852,580.52.
“On account 5001062679, the opening balance as at January 2018 was £39,456.08 and by December 2018, the balance was £13,730.70.
“On account 0001062667, the opening balance as at January 2018 was N24,280,904 and as at December 2018, the balance was N2,656,019.21.
“On account 0001062650, as of January 2018, the opening balance was $80,824.25, and by January 2019, the balance was $56,878.”
Earlier, the second witness, Awal Yakassai, a retired director at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) told the tribunal how on December 14, 2016, he received two assets declaration forms from Justice Onnoghen for the period of 2014 and 2018.
He further told the tribunal from the witness box that the bureau had not verified Onnoghen’s two assets declaration forms he submitted in 2016.
The two CCB 1 forms meant to cover for Onnoghen’s declarations for years 2014 and 2015, were the basis for the six counts of false, non-declaration of assets of which the suspended CJN was being prosecuted.
Under cross-examination by Onnoghen’s lead defence lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), the witness, when shown the two forms, admitted that the columns for verification of the contents of the forms remained blank and unsigned.
Meanwhile, shortly after Okeagbue’s testimony, the prosecution counsel, Umar announced that the Federal government was closing its case against the defendant.
After a brief chat with Onnoghen who was in the dock, his counsel, Awomolo (SAN) announced that Onnoghen had opted to file a no-case submission, implying that the defence would contend that the prosecution had failed to make a case against the defendant and there would not be any need for the suspended CJN to enter his defence.
Before the commencement of proceedings, the chairman of the tribunal, had threatened to jail journalists guilty of misrepresenting proceedings at the trial for a period of 28 years.
Umar, who brought copies of the newspapers that published the stories he complained about, said any journalist who commits such infraction again might have to remain in prison until his retirement in 28 years’ time.
He said: “Henceforth, any journalist carrying concocted or discredited statement which is not adduced before this tribunal, I will not hesitate to bring the full weight of the law heavily on the person.
”The journalist will languish there (prison) and may remain there until I retire – that is about 28 years from now.
“The person will be summarily sent to prison because that is contempt.
“It does not matter whether the contempt is committed in facie curiae (before the court) or ex facie curiae (outside the court).”