Walter Onnoghen, suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, has filed a suit at the Court of Appeal seeking to upturn his conviction by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for false assets declaration.
Onnoghen was found guilty of all the six-count charges brought against him by the federal government who accused him of failing to declare several bank accounts he owns and still operates.
The federal government said the bank accounts contained money believed to be proceeds of corrupt activities.
However, Onnoghen, in his appeal, posited that he was a serving judicial officer at the time the charges were filed on the 11th of January, 2019 before the lower tribunal and, therefore, he “was not subject to the jurisdiction of the lower tribunal”.
The former CJN also argued that the Chairman of the CCT, Danladi Umar, ought to have recused himself from the trial when the accused person raised allegations of bias against him.
“Once an allegation of real likelihood of the bias is raised, the court or tribunal will have nothing more to say except to wash its hands from further proceedings in the matter,” Onnoghen’s appeal read in part.
Also, Onnoghen said that the tribunal was wrong to have placed on him the burden to prove his innocence, adding that it was a contravention of section 36 (5) of the constitution.
“The onus was on the prosecution to prove that the defendant did not declare and submit his assets declaration form to the Code of Conduct Bureau for over 11 years as charged,” he said.
Therefore, Onnoghen asked the Appeal Court to among other things, set aside his conviction, order that the lower tribunal lacks jurisdiction to entertain the case, and order that the lower tribunal ought to have recused itself from going ahead with the trial.
Recall that shortly after Onnoghen was convicted on Thursday, a group of legal practitioners who supports the ex-CJN addressed the press and condemned the CCT judgement which it said was a premeditated action.
According to the group, the federal government had already declared Onnoghen guilty by removing him from office against the constitutional provision.
Meanwhile, the presidency has described Onnoghen’s conviction as a major victory in the anti-corruption campaign of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Garba Shehu, a presidential spokesman, described the judgement as a pointer to the fact that the law applies to all regardless of how powerful or influential an individual is.
“The rule of law will lose its meaning and validity if only the weak, the poor and powerless are punished for their violations of the law,” Shehu stated.
“Countries succeed because the rule of law is evenly upheld and enforced. The war against corruption would go nowhere if the high and mighty are spared because of their influence and connections.
“You can’t fight corruption by allowing impunity because the rule of law cannot function where impunity is tolerated.”