Suspended CJN’s appeals suffer further delay

The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Wednesday adjourned till February 27   to  hear the four appeals filed by the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter  Onnoghen in connection with his trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

It was the third  successive time the court will postpone hearing in the appeals since February 12.

This came as  a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Joe Agi, insisted the $30,000 he paid into Onnoghen’s  bank  account about 10 years ago was not a bribe.

On February 12, the CJN’s cases were adjourned due to the inability of the three-man panel of the CCT led by Justice Abdul Aboki to form a quorum.

At the resumed sitting on February 15, the respondent to the appeals (FG), through its lawyer, Mr Oyin Koleosho of the Federal Ministry of Justice, applied for an adjournment to enable the private lawyer prosecuting Onnoghen, Mr Aliyu Umar (SAN), to properly take over the handling of the appeals as directed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN).

Granting the request, the court adjourned till Wednesday, but the proceedings were again stalled.

This time, Umar appeared but asked for another adjournment to enable him to amend certain papers already filed by the lawyers from the  ministry of justice and a response to Onnoghen’s appeals.

The appeals were adjourned till February 27 for hearing.

The  CJN is challenging the jurisdiction of the CCT to hear the charges against him as well as  the ex parte order which President Muhammadu Buhari relied on to suspend him.

He is also  challenging  the CCT’s refusal to be bound by the orders made by the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court directing the tribunal to halt  his  trial.

The tribunal had  fixed March 11 for the hearing of other pending applications filed by Onnoghen after he pleaded not guilty to the six counts of false declaration of assets instituted against him.

Agi was questioned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission recently over  the alleged suspicious lodgement, but  in a statement on Wednesday, the lawyer said the $30,000 was Onnoghen’s savings from his allowances.

Agi, who claimed he was being persecuted by the Federal Government for exposing corrupt practices, said the $30,000 was given him by Onnoghen to help him to open the domiciliary account in 2009.

He added that he had not paid any additional money into the account ever since.  He challenged  Malami and the EFCC to produce evidence that the money was a bribe.

Agi, who said that he had known  Onnoghen since their days as lawyers in Calabar in the 1980s, said he advised the suspended CJN to open the domiciliary account instead of travelling abroad with cash.

He said, “Justice Onnoghen said he had no idea since having a  foreign account was forbidden to public officers.

“I informed him that a domiciliary account is not a foreign bank account as it is opened and operated within the banks in Nigeria.

“It was on this note that I went to my banker Standard Chartered Bank and obtained Account Opening Forms for him as a friend and senior brother.

“He completed the forms and I refereed him.

“He gave me $30,000,  being the leftover  (savings) of his allowances for overseas seminars, holidays, conferences or medical trips to deposit for him as the first deposit. This I did in 2009.

“After that,  he operated the account himself without me paying even a cent into that account till date.

“Now 10 years after, I am again being vilified and accused of giving Justice Onnoghen a bribe.

“If I may ask,  a bribe for which case? The Supreme Court panel is made up of  five or seven persons, was the $30,000 for the five or seven justices? And for which case?”

Agi was in 2017 prosecuted alongside a retired judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, and the judge’s wife, Olubowale, on charges of offering and receiving a bribe, but he was acquitted by the trial court and recently by the Court of Appeal.

He said in his statement that the case was a trumped-up charge which, according to him, was instituted against him after exposing the Federal Government’s alleged illegal deductions of “$3.18bn from the accounts of local governments”.

He said he had through the suit marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/130/2013, challenged the alleged deductions at the Federal High Court, adding that following the judgment which he obtained at the end of the case, the FG returned part of the money to the local governments.

He said,  “But shockingly, instead of investigating and prosecuting those who stole the money, the government unjustifiably framed me  and charged me with trumped-up and baseless charges of bribing Justice  Ademola with N30m and a car to give the Paris Club refund judgment.

“The charge has since been quashed by the Court  of Appeal and I was discharged and acquitted.”