The trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, appears to be reaching an anti-climax with key prosecution witnesses’ testimony contradicting claims that the embattled number one judicial officer might have corruptly amassed wealth way out of his income.
Subsequently, the federal government abruptly closed its case yesterday and the prosecution, according to sources, are ready to bury the matter with a no case submission.
“The prosecution’s case has crumbled and we have nothing to defend,” a senior silk in Onnoghen’s legal team said last night.
Onnoghen is facing a six-count charge bordering on incomplete asset declaration. Media reports, particularly in the social media, apparently promoted by the federal government, had speculated that the CJN had fat foreign currencies based accounts and scores of houses undeclared as required by law.
Following arraignment and a contentious ex parte order by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) headed by Mr. Danladi Umar, the CJN was suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari.
In spite of a series of litigations challenging the constitutionality of the presidential action and jurisdiction of the tribunal, the trial commenced.
Yesterday, the prosecution closed its case with two of his star witnesses apparently failing to establish claims in the public domain that the CJN was a hefty account owner and massive property man.
The trial took a new twist as an official of Standard Chartered Bank, Ms. Ifeoma Okeagbue, confirmed to the tribunal that Onnoghen was granted a loan of $500,000 by the bank, as of January this year.
With the revelations in the proceedings, Onnoghen has moved to file a no-case submission, which will be heard on March 29.
The prosecution counsel, Mr. Aliyu Umar (SAN), immediately announced the closure of its case shortly after the defendant finished cross examination of Okeagbue.
The federal government closed its case after calling three out of the six witnesses listed for the trial.
Okeagbue, who was testifying as the third prosecution witness in the trial of Onnoghen on charges of false and non-declaration of assets, also confirmed that the loan was guaranteed by his investments in federal government’s bonds and shares, among others.
She said this while being cross-examined by the CJN’s lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN).
The witness, who had earlier said in her evidence-in-chief that Onnoghen had five accounts, confirmed that the ones in euro, dollar, and pound sterling were domiciliary accounts and not “foreign accounts,” as alleged.
Okeagbue in her evidence-in-chief told the tribunal that Onnoghen maintains five different accounts with her bank in Abuja.
According to her, two of the accounts are naira accounts, one saving and the other current, while the remaining three in pounds, dollars and euro.
She disclosed that as December 2018, one of the naira accounts has N2.6million while the other has N12.8million, the euro account as at December 2018, 10,187 euros, the pounds Sterling accounts as at December 2018, had 13,730 pounds and the dollar account as at January 2019 has $56, 878.
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 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.”
The witness said she met the defendant once in 2015 as a Relationship Manager.
Under cross-examination by Onnoghen’s lawyer, Okeagbue said that the five accounts are domiciled in the Wuse branch in Abuja and that Onnoghen never made any foreign transfer from the accounts.
She also confirmed that the five accounts have one Bank Verification Number (BVN).
The witness however admitted that Onnoghen has a facility of $500,000 as at January 2019 with the bank secured by his investment in bonds and other investment.
She further admitted that Onnoghen as a discipline account holder, was encouraged by bank to invest in profit -yielding investment with the interest in the investment regularly credited to his account, adding that the bank made investment on Onnoghen’s behalf from his account.
Earlier, the second prosecution witness, Mr. Awal Yakassai, under cross-examination admitted that two assets declaration forms submitted by Onnoghen three years ago have till date not been verified.
Yakassai, a retired director of the CCB, when his attention was drawn to the column for remarks, admitted that no comment was made on the verification column indicating that the forms have not been verified.
Answering a question, Yakassai further confirmed from the forms that Onnoghen has only five houses contrary to allegation of 55. One of the houses was said to have been sold to him by the federal government.
However, the prosecution counsel, Mr. Aliyu Umar (SAN), yesterday announced that the prosecution was closing its case shortly after the defendant finished cross-examination of Okeagbue.
The prosecution in its application for the trial had said it would be calling six witnesses to prove its case against Onnoghen.
However, at the end of cross-examination, the lead prosecution counsel said though they initially listed six witnesses for the trial, however, it would not be calling on the remaining three, adding that he was offering them to the defence for cross-examination if they so wished.
But counsel to the defendant, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), said the defence does not need the witnesses, adding that the prosecution can go ahead to close its case.
Shortly after the prosecution announced the closure of its case, Awomolo informed the tribunal of its intention to invoke section 303 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015.
He pleaded with the tribunal to allow him prepare a written address and urged the chairman to order the registry to make record of proceedings available to him to guide him in the written address.
The prosecution did not object to the application, prompting the tribunal chairman, Umar to make an order on the registry to avail parties in the matter with the record of proceedings.
He also ordered that the record must be made available to the parties on Monday and adjourned hearing in the no- case submission to March 29.