By Vivian Okejeme Abuja
The suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria(CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, yesterday, opened his defense on the false assets declaration charges instituted against him by the federal government.
The tribunal had on March 29th, dismissed a no-case submission pleaded by Onnoghen, ordering him to enter his defense.
Sequel to the order, the defence, yesterday, called his first witness, Mr. Lawal Olariwaju, to testified in his defense before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, (CCT).
The witness, who said he obtained his West Africa School Certificate Examination(WASCE) in 2004, said he is the Chief Driver/Mechanic at the Supreme Court.
When led in Evidence in chief by Onnoghen’s Counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), the 60 years old witness, told the tribunal how he drove the suspended CJN to the office of the Code of Conduct Bureau, to obtain the assets declaration form.
According to him, the embattled CJN, had on November 3rd, 2010, gave him N200 to buy the assets declaration form.
“On 3rd Nov, 2010, my lordship gave me N200 to go and pay for asset declaration form.
“On getting to CCB’s office, he Onnoghen, collected assets declaration form.
“After he was given the form, he said, ‘Alhaji are you not going to collect your own?’ He said, ‘collect it’.
“We got back to the office, I filled my own.
“On November 3, 2010, My lordship gave me N200 to pay into the treasury account for the assets declaration form.
“On November 4, 2010, I did mine too by paying the sum of N200 to the cashier.”
Confirming the receipt when shown to him, the defence sought to tender the documents before the court as evidence.
Reacting, the prosecution counsel, Aliyu Umar SAN, objected the admissibility of the documents on three grounds.
The prosecution submitted that the witness is not the maker of the document sought to be tendered. He also stated that no proper custody had been established by the witness, adding that the Revenue number (RV) of the document is not stated.
“My Lord, the receipt is incomplete and the authenticity is in doubt,’’ Responding, Awomolo insisted the document is admissible. Relying on section 7 of ACJA, the defence counsel posited that for a document to be admissible, it must be relevant for the purpose of assets declaration.
Awomolo insisted that a document must be admissible on its own, adding that the primary evidence is the original document sought to be tendered.
‘’All the submissions of the prosecution has no bases. The document is admissible by law and I urge you to admit it my lord.’’
However, the Chairman of the Tribunal, Daladi Umar, overruled the prosecution and admitted the receipt as evidence and marked as exhibit D2.
Continuing in his testimony, the witness informed the tribunal that together with Onnoghen, he submitted the form at the CCB office in Abuja but was not given acknowledgment letter instantly.
‘’The woman that received the form asked me to come back for acknowledgment letter.
‘’When I went back. He asked for my Identification card and upon confirmation, she handed me the acknowledgment forms.’’
Again the defence sought for the admissibility of the acknowledgment forms as evidence, but the request was turned down by the tribunal, stating that its irrelevant to the trial.
Under cross examination, the prosecution counsel, asked the witness if he was looking at a written paper. He said yes. When asked who wrote it, he said it is his handwriting.
The prosecution tendered the paper and it was admitted as exhibit.
Also under cross examination, the witness said the defendant is currently the CJN, while in 2010 when they went to the CCB for assets declaration form, the defendant was a Justice of the Supreme Court.
He further said he didn’t go to the CCB in 2015 with the defendant to collect assets declaration form upon his elevation to the CJN.
In the absence of re-examination, the witness was discharge and the matter was adjourned to Wednesday, 3rd April for continuation.
Earlier, Awomolo SAN, informed the tribunal of an application seeking for its order to compel one Mrs Theresa Nwafor, a staff of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to appear before it to testify.
However, Umar SAN, did not object to the application to issue the subpoena compelling Mrs Nwafor.
Consequently, the three member tribunal led by Danladi Umar granted the application and ordered that Mrs Nwafor, who based in Benin Edo state to appear before the tribunal on Wednesday April 3, 2019 by 10am to testify.