Onnoghen Resigns Ahead Of Imminent Sack

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    THE suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, resigned from office on Thursday.

    His resignation came less than 48 hours after the National Judicial Council (NJC) recommended his compulsory retirement.

    His resignation, it was learnt, was aimed at pre-empting the action that President Muhammadu Buhari would take on the report of the NJC.

    It was gathered that at the time the embattled CJN tendered his resignation, President Buhari was still seeking legal advice on whether to retire him or subject him to full trial on the allegations levelled against him.

    Onnoghen, however, decided to beat the President to it in order that he might remain on the honours roll of past Chief Justices of Nigeria and also enjoy the full benefits accruing to the office.

    Explaining why Onnoghen resigned his appointment in a telephone conversation with one of our correspondents yesterday, counsel to the suspended CJN, Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, said he acted in the interest of the judiciary.

    Awomolo, who confirmed that Onnoghen resigned on Thursday, said: “I have just spoken with him. He confirmed to me that he resigned yesterday. He said he resigned in the interest of the Judiciary.”

    Awomolo is the lead defence lawyer in Onnoghen’s trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on charges of non-declaration of asset.

    Another Senior Advocate in Onnoghen’s defence team, who sought anonymity, also confirmed that the suspended CJN put in his resignation letter on Thursday, saying that he addressed it to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Another top source in the Supreme Court said the suspended CJN resigned on Thursday evening following a fait accompli decision taken by the NJC.

    The source said: “The CJN was shocked at the decision of the NJC, so he offered to resign instead of being thrown out through compulsory retirement.

    “I think he chose resignation because it is a better option than a compulsory retirement, which implies some indictment. “The truth is that if a public or a judicial officer is compulsorily retired, he is not entitled to some benefits.

    “Technically, compulsory retirement has some stigma attached to it while resignation would allow the CJN to get full complement of his entitlements, including a N2.5 billion package.

    “One of the official perks enjoyed by past Chief Justices of Nigeria is a retirement home worth about N2 billion, provided by the NJC.”

    Another source, who confirmed the resignation of the CJN said: “I believe Onnoghen opted for resignation because President Buhari can either accept or reject his retirement.

    “And do not forget that if the President accepts Onnoghen’s compulsory retirement, he has to subject it to a two-thirds consent of the Senate in line with Section 292 of the 1999 Constitution.

    “The alternative is to allow the process to drag in the Senate and the fate of Onnoghen will hang in the balance. “Definitely, the Buhari administration will not send its decision to the 8th Senate; it will only leave it for the 9th Senate to decide in June.”

    But a judicial officer who is conversant with the case said: “Onnoghen’s resignation is an afterthought, because he was given the same window when a delegation of the NBA met with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on his fate.

    “It was decided at the meeting that some senior members of the bar should sell the resignation idea to him. Unfortunately, some lawyers persuaded him not to resign without knowing that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has more dossiers on him.

    “Going by precedent, NJC decision has more pre-eminence before President Buhari than an emergency resignation.

    “Now, the President has two letters on his table including the one from the NJC and the other, which is a subterfuge ploy, from Onnoghen.”

    But the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) and the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) yesterday demanded tough sanctions against the embattled former CJN.

    In a statement signed by Niyi Akinsiju and Cassidy Madueke, its Coordinator and Secretary respectively, the BMO said the failure of Justice Onnoghen to declare his assets and thus breaching the Code of Conduct expected from judicial officers, among several other malfeasances and breach of the Money Laundering Act, are too grave to be treated with kids gloves.

    It noted that the offences that are being prosecuted and that have been petitioned against Justice Onnoghen have tainted the sanctity of the judiciary and are not matters to be played with or treated with levity.

    “Justice Walter Onnoghen is alleged to have outrightly failed to declare some of his assets. In fact, he declared only salary accounts but failed to declare accounts where he had funds that were far above his legitimate earnings as a public officer.

    “There is also no evidence that he ever declared his assets since his appointment as a judicial officer from 1989 up until 2016. This is an outright THE NATION ISATURDAY I APRIL 6 I 20192 •Continued on breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers under the 1999 Constitution, and is the least expected from a man who sat at the pinnacle of Nigeria’s judiciary, and should ordinarily be the one to mete out punishments to others who commit such breaches.

    “The ‘Chief Justice of Nigeria’ is also alleged to have had money that he could not reasonably explain the source, but which were lodged in various accounts operated by him. He had over $1.7 million in his dollar accounts, which he conspicuously never declared.”

    According to the group, the alleged receipt by the Justice Onnoghen of pecuniary gifts from various lawyers who had cases in his court breached the Rules of Judicial Conduct which outrightly prohibits judges from receiving pecuniary gifts from lawyers who had cases before them.

    “Justice Onnoghen received several gifts, ranging from a luxury car worth N7 million to a deposit of $30,000 from lawyers who had cases before him,” they said.

    They criticised Justice Onnoghen for maintaining suspicious relationships with lawyers who had serious cases in his court, noting that such conducts created perceptions of bias which is against the Rules of Judicial Conduct.

    The group noted that Justice Onnoghen failed to maintain the minimum standard of decorum expected from judicial officers, saying “the many infractions of Justice Walter Onnoghen are so grave, they have fouled the temple of Justice.

    “It is even most unfortunate that this man was sitting in the highest judicial office of the land. He has embarrassed the legal profession and brought shame and disdain to the judiciary.

    “We must not treat this matter with kid gloves. We expect the toughest sanctions to be meted out to him. What Justice Onnoghen has done does not deserve mercy but serious punitive and corrective sanctions that must send a clear message to other members of the Bench, while assuring Nigerians that the judiciary still remains the last hope for the common and even uncommon man.”

    CHRICED, on its part, recommended summary dismissal of Onnoghen to send a clear message that the law is no respecter of anyone.

    The body faulted the NJC for recommending compulsory retirement for Onnoghen, saying it was strange that the Council would propose a soft landing for the suspended CJN even after it had established that funds running into millions in foreign currencies were traced to his bank accounts.

    It said potential investors and partners of Nigeria are closely watching to see if the judiciary would rise up to the occasion by using the Onnoghen case as a litmus test to demonstrate readiness to address the rot in the system.

    It demanded summary dismissal of Onnoghen to send a clear message to the public that the action taken against Onnoghen by the Federal Government was meant to clean the Augean stable in the judicial arm of government.

    CHRICED made its position known in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Comrade Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi.

    The statement said: “The Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED) is seriously concerned about reports making indicating that the National Judicial Council (NJC) has recommended that President Muhammadu Buhari should compulsorily retire suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, with full benefits and privileges.

    ‘For us, it is curious that the NJC is making this kind of recommendation, despite establishing a clear case of judicial misconduct and unbridled corruption against the suspended CJN.

    ‘As the organisation which spearheaded the efforts of credible civil society organisations (CSOs) to investigate and report Onnoghen’s asset declaration infractions to the NJC, CHRICED finds it strange that the Council is proposing a soft landing for the suspended CJN even after it has established that funds running into millions in foreign currencies were traced to the bank accounts of Onnoghen, which he could not convincingly explain how he came about such huge amounts that were far above his legitimate income as a judicial officer.

    “In the course of the hearing at the NJC, it was also established through extensive documentary evidence, and by the admission of the suspended CJN himself, that he breached the Code of Conduct for public officers by his failure to declare his assets as required by law.

    “With these facts in mind, it is our considered position that the NJC is working towards rewarding the breaking of laws, financial impunity and judicial corruption by making this kind of recommendation.

    “The proposed steps give the impression that the judiciary as an institution is not prepared to clean up its act in the face of the deep rooted problem of corruption.

    “CHRICED therefore calls on the President not to accept the NJC recommendation, which would further embolden misconduct in the judiciary.

    “Given the weight of the infraction committed, and as admitted by the CJN, the kind of punishment which would serve as deterrent to other judicial officers is nothing less than summary dismissal of Onnoghen. This would send a clear message to the public that the action taken against Onnoghen by the Federal Government is to clean the Augean stable in the judicial arm.

    “For the umpteenth time, CHRICED deems it necessary to remind the NJC and all other institutions connected with this case that the whole world, including potential investors and partners of Nigeria, are closely watching to see if the judiciary would rise up to the occasion by using the Onnoghen case as a litmus test to demonstrate readiness to address the rot in the system.

    “If the soft landing being recommended is allowed to stand, then the impression would have been further created that the rule of law, justice and accountability have no place in Nigeria’s judicial system.

    “Such precedence would also damage public confidence in the anti-corruption drive, especially as it would fuel the narrative of a separate kind of justice for the rich and powerful, while there is another kind of justice for the poor and less-connected citizens.

    “Finally, CHRICED hopes that in taking a final decision on this case, the President would be guided by clear provision of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which unambiguously mandates in Section 15(5) that: ‘The State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power’.

    “Only a faithful application of the laws of the land would guarantee a just and fair closure of the Onnoghen matter.”

    Source: TheNation Online

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