The Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar’s threat to imprison some journalists for alleged misrepresentation of the proceedings in the trial of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, has proved to be based on a wrong premise, The PUNCH can report.
A Certified True Copy of the tribunal’s record of proceedings showed that Umar wrongly accused journalists of misrepresenting the March 18, 2019 proceedings on Onnoghen’s trial.
The CCT’s record bears the signature and official stamp of the tribunal’s Director of Legal, Bintu Garba A.
Umar had, during the proceedings of March 21, 2019, accused three newspapers – The Guardian, The Pilot and ThisDay — of misrepresenting certain aspect of the proceedings of March 18.
The CCT chairman attended the March 21 proceedings with the copies of the editions of the newspapers, where he read aloud the headlines on the front pages.
According to Umar, contrary to the reports contained in the March 19, 2019 editions of the newspapers, the defence, led by Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), did not accuse the Federal Government of tampering with certain assets declaration forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau by Onnoghen.
He alleged that the newspapers “falsely reported” on their front pages that the defence had accused the Federal Government of “tampering with” Onnoghen’s assets declaration form when, according to him, the defence only alleged that the form was in a “loose form.”
Reacting to what he described as the newspapers’ “distortion and misrepresentation of the last proceedings of the trial,” he threatened that any journalist who commits such infraction again might have to remain in prison until his retirement in 28 years’ time.
But a Certified True Copy of the CCT’s record of proceedings of March 18, 2019 obtained by The PUNCH showed that the reports faulted by the CCT chairman correctly captured the comment made by Onnoghen’s defence counsel.
The relevant portion of the record of proceedings is the aspect which captures Awomolo’s concerns about the tendering of Onnoghen’s asset declaration forms.
It read in part, “Defense: For 2014, the form has been tampered with somehow, in the sense that there are duplication of pages and with different entries, that is the first observation.
“There are pages, pages 3, 5 that are duplicated with different entries and that is 2014 I’m talking about now.
“The documents have become loose in a way. Even though it’s expected to be the original, its loose in many respects.
“In 2015 declaration form, too, sir, it has also been tampered with, in the sense that they are in loose form, with duplication of pages and omission. So, my lord, in the sum total, we have reservation about these documents but in the interest of justice we will not object but we will address you extensively on the looseness of the forms.”
Onnoghen’s trial on six counts of failure and non-declaration of assets continues on Friday, as both the defence and the prosecution will adopt their written addresses on the defendant’s no-case submission.