By Kunle Olasanmi
Finally, the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, yesterday submitted himself to the Code of Conduct Tribunal sitting in Abuja for trial over alleged non-declaration of assets.
He was subsequently docked and granted bail on self recognition after entering a not-guilty plea.
On February 13, the tribunal had ordered the director of the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Inspector General of Police to arrest the suspended CJN and bring him to court yesterday, but Onnoghen came to the court on his own.
Onnoghen had arrived at the premises of the Tribunal at about 9:45am in his official car and with the full complement of his aides.
There was, however, heavy presence of security of agents from the Nigeria Police Force.
The three-man panel of the Tribunal, led by its chairman, came in at about 10:30am and called for the matter on the list.
Defence counsel, Chris Uche, SAN, informed the tribunal that the defendant was in court, adding that after announcement of appearances , the defence had a pending application.
Tribunal chairman, Umar, however interjected, insisting that the defendant must enter the dock before any business can commence.
Onnoghen was led to the dock by a security personnel.
When the charge was read to him, he pleaded not guilty to the six-count charge brought against him by the prosecution.
Earlier, Uche had prayed the tribunal to set aside the bench warrant issued on Onnoghen on the grounds that he had surrendered himself for trial.
In a short ruling, the tribunal agreed with the defence and set aside the bench warrant but on the condition that the defendant would always be available for trial.
After the not-guilty plea, Uche made an oral application seeking to admit the defendant to bail on self recognition. The prosecution did not oppose the application.
The tribunal consequently granted the application and admitted the defendant to bail on self recognizance.
After the admittance to bail, Uche, in agreement with the prosecution, prayed the tribunal for adjournment to enable parties to the suit to travel to their different constituencies to vote.
The tribunal consequently adjourned till March 11 for hearing of all pending applications.
While speaking to journalists after the proceedings, Uche said the defence was ready to proceed with the matter as the Tribunal had just achieved its ploy to embarrass the judiciary.
“When the matter begins, the whole world will know that there is more to the arraignment of the CJN. The Constitution provides for how a CJN can be removed, but this same tribunal granted an ex-parte order which suspended him”, Uche stated.
The charge against him reads in part: That you, Justice Walter Onnoghen CJN, GCON, between 8th June 2005 to 14th December 2016, serving as a Justice of the Supreme Court failed to declare and submit a written declaration of your assets and liabilities within the prescribed period of three months after being sworn in as the justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on the 8th day of June 2005 and you thereby contravened the provision of section 15(1) of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act Cap C 15 LFN 2004 and punishable under section 23(2) a, b and c of the same act.
*That you, being a public officer as Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria who is under a duty to declare his assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau on or about 14th December, 2016, refused to declare a domiciliary (US Dollar) account No 870001062650 maintained with Standard Chartered Bank (Nig) Ltd Wuse 2, Abuja, which is being operated since 2011 and you thereby contravene the provisions of section 15(2) read along with section 15(1) of the code of conduct bureau and tribunal act Cap C 15 LFN 2004 punishable under section 23(2) a, b and c of the same act, e.t.c.