Ex-CJN Onnoghen’s journey to disgrace

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With the conviction of Walter Onnoghen, former Chief Justice of Nigeria on Thursday by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, a long and controversial episode in Nigeria’s judiciary may have finally come to an end.

The embattled Justice was on Thursday, April 18 found guilty of the charges against him, and was therefore stripped of his position, forfeited the disputed assets to government, and was also banned from holding public office for 10 years.

It all started in January 10, 2019, less than two years after he was nominated by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on March, 2017, the Nigerian Government, through the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), dragged Onnoghen to CCT on charges bothering on asset declaration offences.

The development came following a petition by a group, the Anti-corruption and Research based Data Initiative, accusing him of financial crimes and breaches of the CCB requirements.

The trial despite the controversies started in January 14, 2019 at the premises of a Federal Capital Territory High Court in Jabi, Abuja with Onnoghen conspicuously absent.

At the next date, Justice Onnoghen was also absent, and the CCT adjourned the trial on January 28, pending the outcome of the ruling of the Court of Appeal.

The CCT resumed trial of Onnoghen on February 4, but again adjourned the matter to February 13, 2019, following an application made by the Defence Counsel, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN).

By February 13, the CCT issued a bench warrant for the arrest of Justice Walter Onnoghen, over his continuous failure to submit himself for trial. And two days later, he appeared before the CCT and was granted bail.

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On March 10, Justice Onnoghen told the CCT that it has no jurisdiction to proceed with the six count charge brought against him by the Federal Government.

He said as a serving judicial officer, it was the National Judicial Council (NJC) that was vested with powers to entertain any misconduct against him.

On March 12, the trial was suspended and adjourned till March 18, 2019 after the former CJN lawyer, Awomolo told the tribunal that he was suffering from tooth-ache.

Six days later, Justice Onnoghen was back in the dock. The prosecution tendered exhibits against Onnoghen, while Onnoghen claimed his asset declaration forms were tampered with.

On March 21, witness from the CCB said Onnoghen’s asset forms haven’t been verified since 2016. The federal government closed case against Onnoghen.

While the CCT dismissed a no-case application brought before it by Onnoghen on March 29, the embattled Justice opened defence on April 1.

While the trial was still ongoing, the EFCC detailed criminal allegations against Onnoghen before the NJC, and after days of deliberation, the NJC recommended Onnoghen for retirement.

Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Justice Onnoghen reportedly resigned as CJN on April, while the CCT on April 15 fixed the date for final judgment in the alleged non-declaration of assets suit.

Meanwhile, Justice Walter Onnoghen has filed a notice of appeal against the judgement of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) which convicted him of six counts of false declaration of assets preferred against him by the Federal Government.

Onnoghen filed a notice of appeal at the Court of Appeal in Abuja to challenge the ruling of the tribunal.

In the notice, the “Federal Government of Nigeria” was listed as the only respondent.