Alleged False Assets Declaration: Onnoghen closes defence

The suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, on Wednesday, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Abuja, closed his defence in his ongoing trial on the charges bordering on assets declaration breaches, after calling his driver of 20 years as his first witness.

Lead counsel to Onnoghen, Chief Chris Uche(SAN), told the court that after taking a deep consideration, the defence closes its case.

“Pursuant to paragraph 14 of the Practice Direction of the CCT, we will be applying to file our final written addresses.’’

Uche asked the court give the counsel in the matter 14 days within which to file in their written addresses.

He also applied to be obliged with the proceedings before the tribunal.

The prosecution led by Aliyu Umar, SAN, also prayed the court to be accord counsel enough time in order to file their own written address.

“Because time for filing of written address is not expressively provided for in the Practice Diraction, that makes it a matter of discretion of the court,’’ Umar said.

However, the Chairman of the tribunal. Danladi Umar said that the tribunal has given the defence three working days, from April 4 to April 8 file their address.

The Chairman said the prosecution should file their address from April 9 to April 11.

He further adjourned the case until April for adoption of written addresses.

Onnoghen’s 60-year-old driver, Lawal Busari to the tribunal as his first defence witness following the March 29, ruling of the tribunal dismissing his no-case submission.

Busari entered the witness box, the tribunal issued an order of subpoena, on a director at the Code of Conduct Bureau, Mrs. Theresa Nwafor, to appear as the suspended CJN’s next witness on Wednesday.

This followed an earlier oral application by Onnoghen’s defence lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), on Monday.

The lead prosecuting counsel, Umar, did not oppose the application for the subpoena.

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In a bench ruling, the tribunal chairman ordered the issuance and service of the subpoena on Nwafor directing her to appear at 10 am on Wednesday.

Asked by the tribunal chairman, Awomolo said during the Monday’s proceedings that the defence had proposed to call “two or three witnesses for now.”

With Busari’s testimony concluded on Monday, it was not clear if the defence would close its case after Nwafor’s evidence on Wednesday or whether the suspended CJN himself would testify.

Testifying earlier, Busari, who described himself as the Chief Driver/Mechanic at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, said Onnoghen submitted his assets declaration form in 2010.

This was contrary to one of the six counts preferred against Onnoghen that he did not declare his assets between 2005 and 2016.

Led by Awomolo, Busari, who gave instances of how he had been well treated by Onnoghen, said the suspended CJN obtained his asset declaration form from the Asokoro office of the Code of Conduct Bureau in Abuja on July 28, 2010 and submitted same after completing it on November 4, 2010.

He said he drove Onnoghen to the CCB office where the suspended CJN also encouraged him to obtain his own form.

He added that on November 3, 2010, Onnoghen gave him N200 to pay for the oath-taking aspect of the assets declaration form at the treasury office of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.

He said he was given a receipt by the cashier and later handed same to Onnoghen.

The defence team sought to tender the said receipt but the prosecution objected, saying it was not admissible on, among other grounds, that its authenticity was in doubt.

But the tribunal chairman overruled the objection by admitting the document as an exhibit, adding that the “weight” to be attached to it would be determined.

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Continuing his testimony, Busari said he submitted his completed form and that of Onnoghen at the CCB office in Asokoro, Abuja on Nov. 4, 2010.

Fielding questions from Awomolo, he said, “I don’t know the name of the person who collected the forms from me, but I know she was a woman, who was light in complexion.

“She received my form and that of my lordship.

“I was not given any acknowledgment copy that day. I was asked to come for it when it was ready.”

He said he later went back and collected the acknowledgment slip for his own submitted form.

Again, Awomolo sought to tender Busari’s acknowledgment slip.

This time, the objection raised by the prosecutor to the effect that it was not relevant to the proceedings was sustained and the document was rejected by the tribunal.

Under cross-examination by the prosecutor, Busari confirmed that he had been driving Onnoghen since 1999 while the judge was still serving on the bench of the Court of Appeal.

He confirmed that he drove him to obtain his asset declaration form in 2010.

But he said he did not go with the suspended CJN to the CCB office in 2005 to obtain the form for the assets declaration made by the judge after his appointed to the Supreme Court bench in that year.

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