The prosecution in the trial of suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen yesterday closed its case after calling three witnesses.
Onnoghen is being tried before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for alleged violation of the code of conduct for public officers by not declaring correctly his assets.
The prosecution, led by Aliyu Umar (SAN), called two witnesses – a retired director of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Awal Usman Yakasai and Team Lead, Priority Banking, Standard Chartered Bank, Ifeoma Okabue.
Okabue, who testified as the third prosecution witness, gave details of the five domiciliary accounts held by Onnoghen in her bank, including the balances in the accounts between December 2018 and January 2019.
Yakasai, who was the second prosecution witness, confirmed receiving Onnoghen’s asset declaration forms for 2014 and 2015, which reflected, among others, that he has five houses.
Umar, at the conclusion of Okabue’s testimony, told the tribunal that, although the prosecution had indicated its intention to call six witnesses, it was comfortable with the testimony of the three witnesses called so far and would close its case.
Led in evidence by Umar, Okabue said she started managing Onnghen’s accounts in 2015.
The witness confirmed from a bundle of documents, including account opening documents and statements of account, marked ‘Exhibit 5’, which was handed to him by an official of the tribunal, on Umar’s request, that the defendant has five accounts.
She said the first account, with No: 5001062686, was opened in April 2010, the second: 0001062667 was opened in June 2009; the third: 0001062650 was opened in June 2009; the fourth: 5001062679 was opened in March 2010 and the fifth: 5001062693 was opened in February 2011.
Still reading from the documents, the witness raid the first account had an opening balance of €30,178.58 in January 2018 and a balance of €10,187.18 as at December 2018.
The second account, 0001062667, the witness said, the balance by January 2018 was N34,280,904.61. It had N2,656,019.21 as at December 2018.
The third account: 0001062650, Okabue said, had, by January 2018, a balance of $80,824.25. The balance was $56,878 by January 2019.
Okabue said the fourth account 5001062679, had a balance of £39,456.08 in January 2018. This went down to £13,730.70 by December.
The witness said the fifth account:50010626 had an opening balance of N6,411,312.77k by January 2018, which increased to N12,852,580.52 by December.
In explaining the nature of the accounts, the witness said: “The Euro account is savings account. There are two naira accounts – one is a current account and the other is a savings account. The pound sterling account is savings account, while the US dollars account is a current account.
“I took over the management of the accounts in 2015. The accounts are currently active.”
The witness confirmed meeting the defendant, in her capacity as the bank’s Relationship Manager in charge of High Networth Customers, sometime in 2015.
When asked how to know if an account was dormant, Okabue said: “An account would be dormant due to inactivity for up to one year. Whether an account is dormant or not can be ascertained from the statement of account.
“When an account goes dormant, it is my responsibility, as the Relationship Manager, to inform the customer of the dormant status of the account and encourage the customer to reactivate the account or the bank sends a notification to the customer.”
When asked if such communication ever took place in relation to the status of the defendant’s accounts, the witness said she could not recall her bank or her informing the defendant that any of his accounts was dormant or should re-activate.
Under cross-examination by the lead defence lawyer, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), Okabue said the bank invested some of the funds in the defendant’s accounts on his behalf and paid the yield from such investments back into the accounts.
She added that the defendant got a facility (loan) of 500,000 US dollars from the bank in January 2019, the security for the loans were his investments in Federal Government’s bonds and other investments, such as shares and others
Okabue said the domiciliary accounts in Pound sterling, Euro and US Dollars were operated here in Nigeria, not overseas, by the bank.
She said the bank advised the defendant to invest in other profit yielding investments, and that interests on theses investments were regularly credited to these accounts.
The witness said there was no evidence in the account statements that showed the defendant made a transfer for the purchase of pleasure/luxury vehicles.
Yakasai, who testified earlier, told the tribunal how he received the completed forms from Onnoghen and how the forms were inspected in his presence.
The witness, who said he is now a farmer, told the tribunal that, as at December 2016, he was a director in CCB, in charge of Federal Political Office Department.
“My schedule of duties includes taking charge of the general administration of the department, responsible for operational activities of the department, that include issuing and receiving completed copies of assets declaration forms (CCB1) from federal political office holders as well as staff of the Federal Judiciary.
“That was the main schedule of my duties as at that time.I was posted to that department in November 2013 up to February 2017. I retired in April 2018.”
The witness said he met the defendant once when he (the defendant) came to submit his declaration form in my office.
Yakasai added: “He (Onnoghen) came to submit his forms on December 14, 2016. On that day, in my office in Asokoro, I was attending a meeting at the conference hall when a staff of mine called me and informed that the defendant was in my office to submit his forms.
“I left the meeting and came to attend to the defendant, who was accompanied by one other person. I collected the forms from him.
“We went through the form, from one page to another, with them, up to the last page, which was page 6.
“After that, I put down my name in page 8 as the receiving officer. And appended my signature to confirm that I was the person who received it.”
“Thereafter, I handed the form to the schedule officer.And directed him to register the form in our register and process the acknowledgment slip to be handed back to him. I then went back to my meeting.
“I received two forms from the defendant. After signing, the slips were detached from the forms and were handed over to the person, who the defendant came to my office with. The forms were retained in the Chairman’s office, as is the procedure,” the witness said.
Yakasai said apart from receiving the forms and directing his junior officer to conclude the process, he did not do any other thing in relation to the form.
The witness confirmed the forms, marked as Exhibits 2 and 3, when they were shown to him.
Under cross-examination, he said he did not know the group that wrote the petition that informed Onnghen’s investigation and subsequent prosecution.
The witness, who confirmed that information in the petition by the group was similar to those in the form submitted by Onnoghen, said he did not know how the group got its information.
He also told the tribunal that it was the CCB Chairman who could only authorise access to completed assets declaration forms kept with the bureau.
At the conclusion of the the prosecution witness’ testimony, Umar announced the closure of the prosecution’s case, following which Awomolo said the defence planned to make a no-case submission in line with the provision of Section 303 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
Umar adjourned the matter till March 29 for adoption of parties’ addresses in respect of the defence’s no-case submission.
Before the proceedings, the tribunal Chairman noted that the last proceedings on March 18 was misrepresented in some media reports.
He urged the media to ensure appropriate reportage of proceedings and to avoid distortion and misrepresentation.
Umar threatened to come down hard on any media house and journalist who misrepresents proceedings at the tribunal. He threatened to ensure that such a journalist was incarcerated for as long as he remains in service.
He said: “Henceforth, any journalist, who publish distorted and concocted information contrary to what happens here, I will not…
“They will languish there in prison until I retire, about 28 years from now. I have made my point clear to the journalists. They should take hint.”
Umar also told lawyers in the case to, henceforth refer to each member of the tribunal as “my Lord”, as is the case in the regular courts.