Onnoghen didn’t get fair trial at CCT – Access to Justice

A non-governmental organisation and judiciary watchdog, Access to Justice, has faulted the procedure leading to the conviction of former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

The CCT last Thursday convicted Onnoghen of failure to fully declare his assets.

The tribunal ordered his sacking and forfeiture of the funds in five bank accounts which Onnoghen failed to declare.

Reacting to the CCT verdict in a statement by its Director, Joseph Otteh, and Programme Officer, Daniel Aloaye, A2J said while it believed in the principle of equality before the law, the proceedings leading to the verdict were not fair.

The group contended that in the handling of Onnoghen’s case, the CCT failed the requirement of independence expected of any court, adding that the tribunal made it obvious from the beginning that it was out to reach a predetermined outcome set by the executive arm of government.

It said, “It would be a serious fallacy to characterise the tribunal’s verdict as one reached after a due process trial using even the lowest possible denominators of what a fair trial represents.

“The procedures adopted by the tribunal in the case were far too faulty and flawed to be regarded as a judicial process. To reasonable observers, it would appear that the tribunal’s procedure and speed were deliberately concocted to enable it to reach its pre-determined outcomes, and its verdict was simply a reflection and product of the shambolic trial.

“Undoubtedly, Justice Onnoghen’s trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal was, in every way, grossly and grievously unfair, and no fair-minded court or tribunal could have descended to the depths the Code of Conduct Tribunal delved in trying to convict Walter Onnoghen of the charges against him in order to remove him from office.

“The tribunal was so desperate to convict Justice Onnoghen that it had to overturn or sidestep its previous judgments on similar matters, decisions such as those given in a prior case involving another Justice of the Supreme Court.

“A cardinal principle of our Common Law system is that similar cases are decided alike in other to prevent arbitrariness and caprice in the adjudication of cases.

“This is not a way to fight corruption. There is no positive, but rather, there are plenty negatives to this flawed judgment. This judgment merely shows how much is still lacking in Nigeria’s courts and tribunals and how distanced they truly are from being independent vehicles of justice.  Unfortunately, the Code of Conduct Tribunal has been headed for a long time by a person who himself has been the subject of corruption allegations, and that, in itself, is a major weakness.”

Condemning the earlier interim order of the CCT empowering President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend Onnoghen, A2J added, “The tribunal had, from the word go, drawn the handwriting on the wall indicating that it was bent on a particular outcome, and that it would look neither to the left nor to the right in the blind pursuit of that goal. At several pivotal junctures in the course of the trial, the tribunal appeared to demonstrate that it was clearly on the same side with the government, and was not sitting as an unbiased umpire or judicial arbiter.

“Nowhere was this more evident as when Danladi Umar and another member of the tribunal granted, speaking figuratively, under cover of darkness on January 23, 2019, an ex parte order removing Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“The bizarre and egregious procedure taken to unseat Justice Onnoghen was an unmistakable indication that no barrel was too deep to plumb in getting to achieve what the tribunal wanted to achieve, and no rule or principle of law was strong or revered enough to forestall its plan. It will not surprise many that the Code of Conduct Tribunal reached the verdict it did after using very questionable procedures from the very start.”

 

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