….Says I’m Innocent of all Charges ….He Cannot be tried by CCT….Afe Babalola ….It’s a Politically Motivated Blackmail…..HURIWA In a move enmeshed in high wired politics, Nigeria’s number one judicial officer, Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, may be on his way out as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). The CJN will be arraigned on
….Says I’m Innocent of all Charges
….He Cannot be tried by CCT….Afe Babalola
….It’s a Politically Motivated Blackmail…..HURIWA
In a move enmeshed in high wired politics, Nigeria’s number one judicial officer, Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, may be on his way out as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
The CJN will be arraigned on Monday January 14 on charges bordering on failure to declare his assets as required by law. This is coming on the heels of a petition sent to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) by Mr Dennis Aghanya, executive secretary of the Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data (ARDI) alleging some improprieties against the CJN.
In fact, preparatory to the arraignment before the Justice Danladi Yakubu-led Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in Abuja, the Federal Government has told Onnoghen to resign.
ARDI said Onnoghen “is the owner of sundry accounts primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself up to as recently as 10th August 2016 which appear to have been run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials”.
The group said Onnoghen made five different cash deposits of $10,000 each on March 8, 2011, into Standard Chartered Bank Account 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 petitioners said Onnoghen did not declare his assets immediately after taking office, contrary to section 15 (1) of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act; and that he did not comply with the constitutional requirement for public servants to declare their assets every four years during their career.
Also alleged against him is that his Code of Conduct Bureau Forms (Form CCB 1) for 2014 and 2016 were dated and filed on the same day and the acknowledgement slips were issued for both on December 14, 2016 — at which point, they said, Onnoghen had become the CJN.
Onnoghen assumed office as CJN on March 6, 2017.
ARDI 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”.
These account balances were listed against his name by ARDI:
- The Standard Chartered Bank dollar account 1062650 with a balance of $391,401.28 on January 31, 2011
- The Standard Chartered Bank Euro account 5001062686 with a balance of EURO 49,971 .71 on January 31, 2011
- The Standard Chartered Bank pound sterling account 5001062679 with a balance of GBP23,409.66 on February 28, 2011.
“It is curious that these domiciliary accounts were not declared in one of the two CCB Forms filed by Justice Onnoghen on the same day, 14th December 2016,” the group said.
ARDI said it believed its petition had established cases of “suspicious financial and other transactions against His Lordship, collusion between His Lordship and various banks related to Suspicious Transactions Reporting (STR) and financial transactions not justifiable by His Lordship’s lawful remuneration at all material times”.
The group said its petition became necessary “bearing in mind the imminence of the 2019 General Elections and the overwhelming roles of the Judicial Arm both before and after”.
The CJN was, during the week, served the charge sheet.
Scores of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, are already in Abuja to defend Onnoghen before the tribunal.
The petition was written by ARDI and partners on January 7 to the Chairman, Code of Conduct Bureau, Federal Secretariat, Abuja and was received on January 9.
It is titled ‘PETITION AGAINST HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE W.S. NKANU ONNOGHEN, GCON, THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF NIGERIA, FOR SUNDRY BREACHES OF THE CODE OF CONDUCT BUREAU REQUIREMENTS FOR PUBLIC OFFICIALS INCLUDING NON- DECLARATION AND FALSE DECLARATION OF ASSETS.
Onnoghen has however refuted the accusations of false assets declaration by the Code of Conduct Bureau, clarifying that he forgot to update his asset declaration forms.
“My asset declaration form numbers SCN 00014 and SCN 00005 were declared on the same day, 14/12/2016 because I forgot to make a declaration of my assets after the expiration of my 2005 declaration in 2009. Following my appointment as acting CJN in November, 2016, the need to declare my assets anew made me to realize the mistake.
“I then did the declaration to cover the period in default. I did not include my standard chartered bank account in SCN 000014 because I believed they were not opened.
“I did not make a fresh declaration of asset after my substantive appointment as CJN because I was under the impression that my SCN 000015 was to cover that period of four years which includes my term as CJN,” Mr Onnoghen said in his statement dated January 11th in his response to the CCB query.
Nevertheless, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has scheduled Jan. 14 for his arraignment. Mr Ibraheem Al-Hassan, the tribunal’s Head, Press and Public Relations, said this in a statement on Saturday in Abuja.
He said the action was consequent upon an application filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to the Chairman of the tribunal.
Al-Hassan said the application was signed by Mr Ibrahim Usman and Mrs Fatima Ali on behalf of the bureau.
He, therefore, said the tribunal would commence the trial of the CJN on six-count charge as the service of summons had been effected on the defendant.
Mr Dennis Aghanya, Executive-Secretary ARDI who made the copy of the petition available to newsmen on Saturday in Abuja, said the body had acted as a whistle blower.
Aghanya, a former Buhari’s aide between 2009 and 2011 and the pioneer national publicity secretary of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) is also the founding member of The Buhari Organisation (TBO). He said the petition, which was filed on Jan. 7, was an offshoot of a painstaking investigation into the dealings of the CJN.
He said the organisation was of the strong opinion that the allegations were weighty enough to compel an action against Justice Onnoghen.
Legal Luminary, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), has described the proposed trial on Monday of Justice Onnoghen, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over alleged failure to fully declare his assets as “denigration of the country’s Judiciary and Constitution.”
He also noted the constitutional provision which stipulates that any infraction by judges must first be investigated and then resolved by the National Judicial Council, “to the exclusion of any other body or authority.”
Babalola, in a statement on Sunday entitled, Proposed arraignment of the Hon Justice Walter Onnoghen: Again, I say two wrongs do not make a right, said the law had made clear the processes for the trial of judicial officers and as well their removal, hence the need to desist from “contempt and denigration of the judiciary.”
He said: “I am of the view that the Constitution requires that any infraction by the said judges be firstly investigated and resolved by the National Judicial Council, to the exclusion of any other body or authority.”
Babalola, who stated that the decision of the Court of Appeal in Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) LPELR-43391(CA) “still subsists and has not been set aside,” said: “I therefore see no justification for the decision to arraign the CJN before the CCT.”
Continuing, he argued, “Again, the point must be made clear that the Constitution clearly provides for the procedure with which the CJN can be removed from office.
“Section 292 (1)(a)(i) and 292 (1)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) addressed it.”
According to him, given the clear provisions for trial and removal of judges, “It becomes more worrying to learn that, aside from laying the proposed charges, the prosecution has also filed an application for an order directing the CJN to recuse himself from office pending the conclusion of the trial.”
The senior advocate said: “By proceeding as proposed, the government is unwittingly or, perhaps, deliberately, creating a wrong impression in the minds of millions of Nigerians that the Judiciary is a criminal organisation.
“For the sake of our democracy, this is a misconception that must not be allowed to fester.
“No country, no matter how well intentioned its political leaders are, can aspire to greatness if its judicial arm is denigrated and held in contempt.
“While the Judiciary itself must be awake to its huge responsibilities, its efforts in this regard will surely not be helped by the erosion of its independence,” the SAN stated.
The Nigerian Bar Association has also condemned the filing of non-assets declaration charges against CJN Onnoghen, by the Federal Government, describing it as a ploy to emasculate the judiciary and intimidate judges ahead of the forthcoming general elections.
The President of the umbrella body of the Nigerian lawyers, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), described the development in a statement late on Saturday, as a “targeted assault of the judiciary by the agents of the Federal Government”.
Usoro added that the planned trial of the CJN was a violation of the Court of Appeal’s judgment in Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) which shielded serving judges from investigation and prosecution unless they are first disciplined by the National Judicial Council.
The association urged the Federal Government to exercise “restraint” as it demanded, “that the Code of Conduct Bureau follow due process in proceeding against the CJN by complying with Nganjiwa’s judgment (supra) and other similar judicial precedents.”
“This continuing attack on the justice sector must cease forthwith. FGN and its agencies must desist from debasing the rule of law,” Usoro said in the statement.
He added that with the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, having been earlier subjected to trial on charges of non-declaration of assets before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the planned trial of the CJN followed “a pattern of consistent assault by agencies of the Federal Government on the heads of the two independent arms of government”.
The statement read in part, “There are two final issues that we must touch upon in this Statement, albeit, briefly. First, could it possibly be a coincidence that the current assault on the judiciary is taking place only weeks to the 2019 National Election?
“Apart from the conduct itself being wrongful and deplorable, its timing is condemnable. FGN will find it difficult to convince any reasonable person that its assault against the CJN and by extension the judiciary is not aimed at emasculating that arm of the government and intimidating our judges ahead of the 2019 National Elections.
“In our afore-referenced International Anti-Corruption Day Statement, the NBA had deplored ‘conducts that qualify as . . . political non-accountability, absence of transparency and impunity in public service’.
“The FGN’s conduct in this instance qualifies, amongst others, as “impunity in public service.
“As a final point, it is also difficult for a disinterested observer not to see a pattern of consistent assault by agencies of the FGN on the heads of the two independent arms of government, to wit, the legislature and the judiciary, starting with the prosecution of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, before the CCT and now, the ill-fated prosecution of the CJN before the same CCT. The impression must not be created that the agencies of the Executive arm of the FGN are interested in destabilizing and laying prostrate the other arms of the Government and in the process eliminating and destroying any and all voices of dissent and checks and balances.”
Usoro also queried the rush with which the charges were filed as the filing was done by the Code of Conduct Bureau within 24 hours of receiving the petition against the CJN.
He stated, “Why has FGN decided to embark on this anomalous course of charging the CJN before the CCT without first presenting whatever facts it purportedly has against His Lordship to the NJC for its deliberation and determination?
“The petition that triggered the CCB action was on its face received by the Bureau on 09 January 2019 and the charge was promptly drafted and is dated the following day, 10 January 2019 – giving the CCB a record 24 hours for completion of its investigation and the drafting of the said Charge and ancillary processes! If one contemplates the fact that the CCT arraignment is scheduled to take place on 14 January 2019, we have in total a record number of three working days between the receipt and processing of the petition, investigation, preparation of charge and ancillary processes and the arraignment! Such unprecedented speed and efficiency in Nigeria’s criminal justice administration!
“It is clear, given the rush with which this matter was conducted by the CCB, that the NJC was not privy to it and did not conduct its mandatorily required disciplinary processes prior to the filing of the charge before the CCT.”
With the media already awash with the details of the charges preferred against the CJN ahead of the scheduled arraignment on Monday, the NBA said the Federal Government was subjecting Nigeria’s topmost judicial officer to media trial, which the association argued also amounted to corruption.
“Indeed, those orchestrated media trials degrade and corrupt the justice administration system quite apart from the incalculable (but obviously intended) damage that it does to persons who may ultimately be discharged and acquitted,” the NBA said in the statement.
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) also condemns in very strong terms what it perceives as the undemocratic, unconstitutional and illegal plots by the Buhari Presidency in order to fix the last missing piece of their rigging machinery.
In a statement by Mr Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, its 1st national spokesperson, CUPP said “The Presidency had during the appointment of Justice Onnoghen shown its card that it was not comfortable with his appointment hence it was delayed until President Buhari was hurried out of the country due to perennial illness.”
“Justice Onnoghen has since shown that he is fair, firm, and able to do justice and will not succumb to the pressures of a Presidency that is planning to rig an election as the only hope of winning a reelection following their rejection by the Nigerian people. This dastardly move by the Presidency is the last desperate acts of an outgoing government to blackmail the CJN out of office and bring in a rouge judge to allow APC rigging.”
“These acts of desperation are an unequivocal declaration of war on the Nigerian democracy by the Buhari Presidency and the ruling APC. President Buhari is now living in morbid fear of losing the election after he wasted the opportunity freely and willingly given to him by Nigerians to improve their lot.”
This can only be a plot to manipulate post 2019 election tribunal. Nothing else can be behind this despotic move to desecrate office of the CJN.
A prominent non-governmental organisation, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has accused President Muhammadu Buhari of “attempting to foist a totalitarian regime through a subterfuge by the eleventh-hour plot to arraign the Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal over sundry allegations bordering on non-declaration of assets.”
“HURIWA is of the considered opinion that mischief and malice may have guided the decision of the Presidency to institute these charges before a tribunal teleguided by the executive arm of government going by the fact that the Code of Conduct Tribunal and Code of Conduct Bureau are controlled by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation,” a statement issued on Saturday evening said.
HURIWA in the statement signed by the National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, wondered why the Executive Arm of Government did not approach the regular court system or the National Assembly “if these charges aren’t politically motivated blackmail to whittle down the influence of a Southern-born Chief Justice of Nigeria in the event that the presidential election becomes stalemated and may require adjudication before the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”
HURIWA recalled that the President hesitated in the appointing of Justice Onnoghen as CJN in a substantive way “but plotted to impose a Northern-born justice who was then second in line in terms of seniority to the current holder of the office of CJN.”
The rights group said there was no way Justice Onnoghen would get justice “from the handpicked Code of Conduct Tribunal appointed and reorganised structurally by the Presidency shortly after the Chairman of the Tribunal acquitted the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, of all charges of failure to declare his assets and the CJN headed the appellate panel that finally nailed the coffin of the Presidency’s plot to sustain a case against the main political rival of the current President in the person of the Senate President.”
“This politically-motivated war against the CJN is a payback for his principled stand to discharge and acquit Saraki of all charges as framed up by the Executive through the Federal Attorney General,” HURIWA said.