Plots To Remove Walter Onnoghen, CJN, Hatched

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Walter Onnoghen
Walter Onnoghen

Plots to remove Justice Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), have been hatched as the Danladi Umar-led three-man panel of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) may arraign him on Monday for allegedly failing to declare his assets as stipulated by law.

Consequent upon this, the Federal Government has asked him to vacate office over alleged corrupt practices.

However, the South-South Governors’ Forum has scheduled an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss issues affecting the country including the alleged plot to sack Onnoghen.

The call for CJN’s resignation followed an application filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for CJN’s arraignment and commencement of his trial on a six-count charge levelled against him by the Tribunal.

A civil society group under the name, Anti-corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative (ARDI) had purportedly petitioned the CCB over some alleged illegal transactions discovered in the bank accounts of the CJN.

The letter dated January 7, bore a CCB ‘received’ stamp allegedly from the office of the chairman of the bureau on January 9.

Some of the allegations contained in the petition read that the CJN “is the owner of sundry accounts primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself up to August 10, 2016, which was allegedly operated in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials.”

The group also alleged that Justice Onnoghen made five different cash deposits of $10,000 each on March 8, 2011, into Standard Chartered Bank Account No. 1062650; two separate cash deposits of $5000 each followed by four cash deposits of $10,000 each on June 7, 2011; another set of five separate cash deposits of $10,000 each on June 27, 2011, and four more cash deposits of $10,000 each the following day.

The petition further stated that Justice Onnoghen did not declare his assets immediately after taking office. This, it held, was contrary to section 15 (1) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.

The CJN was also accused of violating the constitutional requirements for public servants to declare their assets every four years during their career.

Others include that the CJN’s Code of Conduct Bureau Forms (Form CCB 1) for 2014 and 2016 were dated and filed on the same day and that acknowledgement slips were issued for both of them on December 14, 2016, “at which point Justice Onnoghen has become the Chief Justice of Nigeria.”

Recall that Justice Onnoghen assumed office as CJN on March 6, 2017, and not in 2016 as quoted in the petition, although he was serving on acting capacity at the time.

The group equally alleged that prior to 2016, Onnoghen appeared “to have suppressed or otherwise concealed the existence of these multiple domiciliary accounts owned by him as well as the substantial cash balances in them.”

ARDI, in the petition, listed that Justice Onnoghen is the owner of Standard Chartered Bank dollar account No.1062650 with a balance of $391,401.28 as at January 31, 2011; Standard Chartered Bank Euro account 5001062686 with the balance of EURO 49,971 .71 as at January 31, 2011 as well as a Standard Chartered Bank pound sterling account No. 5001062679 with the balance sum of GBP23,409.66 as at February 28, 2011.

The petitioner described as “curious”, the fact that such domiciliary accounts were not declared in one of the two CCB Forms filed by Justice Onnoghen on the same December 14, 2016.

The group held that the petition has succeeded in establishing suspicious financial and other transactions against the CJN, stressing that the collusion between him and various banks related to “Suspicious Transactions Reporting (STR) and financial transactions not justifiable by his lawful remuneration at all material times.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim Al-Hassan, the Head, Press and Public Relations, CCT, Abuja, in a statement issued Saturday, informed that the tribunal has scheduled Monday, January 14, for the commencement of trial against the CJN “for alleged non-declaration of asset.”

“This was consequent to an application filed by CCB to the CCT Chairman last Friday for the trial to commence against the CJN on six-count charge,” Al-Hassan said.

“However, service of the summons has been effected on the defendant. The three-man panel led by Justice Danladi Y. Umar will commence the trial on Monday, January 14, at its courtroom at about 10 a.m.”

The statement further read that the letter to the CCT contained the six-count charge bordering on non-declaration of assets was filed on Friday, January 11 by the operatives of the CCB, and signed by one Musa Ibrahm Usman and Fatima Danjuuma.

Justice Onnoghen’s battle for survival as the CJN began as soon as his predecessor, the former CJN, JusticeMahmud Mohammed retired from office in November 2016.

Onnoghen, who was expected to assume office immediately to avoid any vacuum in the judiciary, was however abandoned on acting capacity until March 2017, following the delay in transmitting his nomination to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, for screening and confirmation.

In an unprecedented move, the Federal Government has slammed a six-count criminal charge against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, over his alleged refusal to declare his assets.

The motion, if granted, will see the replacement of Justice Onnoghen who is the first Southerner to attain the position of the CJN in over 30 years, with the next most senior jurist on the apex court bench, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, who is from the Northern extraction.

Though it is not readily clear if FG’s move against the CJN is part of intrigues precipitating the 2019 general elections, however, Justice Onnoghen had on Tuesday last week, declared the readiness of the judiciary under his leadership, to dispassionately resolve disputes that will arise from the impending elections.

Justice Onnoghen, whose appointment suffered unprecedented delay by President Muhammadu Buhari over undisclosed issues, may be the first CJN in the annals of Nigeria to be arraigned for criminal charges by the government. Meantime, whereas section 291(1) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, provided that a judicial officer appointed to the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal, may retire when he attains the age of 65 years and shall cease to hold office when he attend the age of 70 years.

According to section 292 (1), “A judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances:

(a) In the case of (1) Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, President of the National Industrial Court, Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and President Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.

(b) “In any case, other than those to which paragraph (a) of this subsection applies, by the President or, as the case may be, the Governor acting on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council that the judicial officer be so removed for his inability to discharge Te functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct”.

The South-South Governor’s Forum has scheduled an emergency meeting for Sunday to discuss issues affecting the country, especially the region.

A statement by the Special Adviser, Media Relation’s to the Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Fidelis Soriwei, stated that the security of the Niger Delta, during and after the election as well as the issue of derivation, and recent development involving the Chief Justice of the Federation would feature for deliberation at the meeting.

Expressing his opinion at the development in the Supreme Court, Governor Dickson said that while he was yet to know the full details surrounding the developments at the Supreme Court concerning the CJN, it is a grave and dangerous escalation, coming a few weeks to the general elections.

He said that the South-South Governors would address a press conference after the meeting to convey the position of the zone to the Nigerian public. Governor Dickson said that all efforts must be on deck to prevent the subversion and desecration of the ethos of democracy in Nigeria as nation moves nearer to the election.