Onnoghen finally appears before CCT, pleads not guilty to charges

The suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, on Friday surrendered to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in Abuja after the case against him had been adjourned five previous times due to his absence.

Displeased with Onnoghen’s repeated absence from the tribunal, the CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar, had on Wednesday ordered the police and the Department of State Services to arrest and produce him before the tribunal on Friday.

But the suspended CJN was said to have averted the arrest by voluntarily attending the Friday’s proceedings where the six counts against him were read to him.

“I am not guilty,” he said in response to all the charges, making history as the first CJN to be arraigned on criminal charges in Nigeria.

Friday was his first public appearance since January 25 when President Muhammadu Buhari suspended him.

He arrived at the CCT in his official vehicle at about 9.40am on Friday but did not step out of the car until about 10.19am, ahead of the tribunal sitting at 10.34am.

Onnoghen, who wore a suit with a gold colour tie, entered the courtroom and was seated, flanked by two of his lawyers.

The lead defence counsel, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), announced the presence of his client shortly after tribunal members arrived.

Onnoghen stepped into the dock at about 10.37am.

The CCT chairman directed that Onnoghen should be offered a seat in the dock, but the embattled CJN turned the offer down. Appearing unruffled, there was a smile on his face throughout the proceedings.

Shortly after the charges were read to him and he pleaded not guilty to them, his lawyer, Uche applied that the arrest warrant, issued against him be discharged and that he be granted bail on self recognition.

The tribunal chairman granted both applications.

Umar noted that Onnoghen voluntarily attended the proceedings without coercion but added that the arrest warrant was discharged on the condition that the suspended CJN would not fail to attend all the proceedings in the case till the end of the trial.

Amid amusing displays by the tribunal chairman, Umar, the CCT adjourned the trial of the suspended CJN till March 11.

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