FG arraigns Onnoghen at CCT for alleged non-declaration of assets

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South-south Governors’ Forum, Atiku, NBA, others condemn arraignment

The federal government is set to arraign the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Onnoghen, tomorrow, Monday January 14 at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for alleged non-declaration of assets.

The arraignment followed a petition by the Anti-corruption and Research Based Data Initiative (ARDI) alleging some illegal transactions discovered in the CJN’s bank accounts.

The petition, dated January 7, 2019, was signed by ARDI Executive Secretary, Dennis Aghanya, and was stamped “received” by the office of the CCB chairman on January 9.

A statement by the head, press and public relations of the CCT, Mr. Ibraheem Al-Hassan, confirmed the scheduled arraignment of the CJN on a six count criminal charge bordering on non-declaration of his assets.

“The Code of Conduct Tribunal has scheduled Monday, January 14, 2019 for the commencement of trial against current Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Onnoghen Nkanu Walter Samuel, for alleged non-declaration of assets.

“This was consequent to application filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau to the CCT Chairman yesterday (Friday) for the trial to commence against the Chief Justice of Nigeria on six counts.

“However, service of 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, 2019, at its courtroom, situated along Jabi Daki Biyu, Solomon Lar Way, Abuja, at about 10am.

“The application was filed yesterday (Friday) by the operatives of the CCB, dated January 11, 2019, and signed by Musa Ibrahim Usman and Fatima Danjuma Ali (Esq.), containing six-count charges all borders on non-declaration of assets January 12, 2019,” said the CCT.

The ARDI, in the petition had alleged that “Onnoghen was the owner of sundry accounts primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself up till 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 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 group further 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.”

“The discrepancy between Justice Walter Onnoghen’s two CCB forms that were filed on the same day is significant.

“In filling the section on Details of Assets, particularly cash in Nigerian Banks, His Lordship, as Declarant SCN: 000014, mentioned only two bank accounts: Union Bank account number 0021464934 in Abuja, with balance of N9,536,407, as of 14th November, 2014, and Union Bank account number 0012783291 in Calabar, with balance of N11, 456,311 as of 14th November, 2014.

“The sources of the funds in these accounts are stated as salaries, estacodes and allowances.

“As Declarant SCN: 000015, His Lordship however lists seven bank accounts: Standard Chartered account 00001062667, with balance of N3,221,807.05 as of 14th November, 2016; Standard Chartered account 00001062650, with balance of $164,804.82, as of 14th November, 2016; Standard Chartered account 5001062686, with balance of €55,154.56, as of 14th November, 2016.”

Others are Standard Chartered Bank account 5001062679 with balance of £108,352.2, as of 14th November, 2016; Standard Chartered Bank account 5001062693 with balance of N8, 131,195.27, as of 14th November, 2016; Union Bank account 00021464934 with balance of N23, 261,568.89, as of 14th November, 2016 and Union Bank account 0012783291 with balance of N14, 695,029.12, as of 14th November, 2016,” stated ARDI.

The petitioner alleged that the foreign currencies in the Standard Chartered Bank accounts that were declared by the CJN had been in existence since 2011, noting that the number one judicial officer in the country appeared to have concealed the substantial money in them.

“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 stated that Onnoghen did not declare his assets immediately after taking office, contrary to Section 15 (1) of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, stressing 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.

But it would be recalled that Onnoghen became CJN on March 6, 2017.

The ARDI said it believed its petition had established cases of suspicious financial and other transactions against the CJN “and collusion between His Lordship and various banks related to Suspicious Transactions Reporting and financial transactions not justifiable by His Lordship’s lawful remuneration at all material times.”

Onnoghen responds

The CJN was quoted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) as saying in a response to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) queries regarding his asset declaration that his 2016 declaration made up for any default.

“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 charted 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 11,” he said.

South-south Governors’ Forum meets

Meanwhile, the South-South Governor’s Forum has scheduled an emergency meeting for today in Abuja.

A statement by the special adviser, media relations to the Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Fidelis Soriwei, said the recent development involving Onnoghen will feature among other matters penciled for deliberation.

Others are security of the Niger Delta, during and after the election, as well as the issue of derivation.

In his reaction to the CJN’s planned arraignment, Governor Seriake Dickson said that while he was yet to know the full details, the development could have grave implications and capable of escalating dangerously coming only a few weeks to the general elections.

He said that south-south governors would address a press conference after the meeting to convey the position of the zone to the Nigerian public, adding that all efforts must be on deck to prevent the subversion and desecration of the ethos of democracy in the country as the nation moves nearer to the 2019 general election.

Atiku Abubakar reacts

The presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Atiku Abubakar condemned the federal government’s move to arraign the CJN at CCT saying it is aimed at pressuring an independent and self-governing arm of government with the aim of getting Onnoghen resign.

In statement by Atiku Campaign Organisation entitled, ‘A clarion call in defence of our constitution’ Atiku said: “I have received the news of the sudden charges about to be filed against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, with apprehension and suspicion, especially as such a move against the head of an arm of our government is coming so close to an election in preparation of which the Buhari administration has shown growing desperation.

 “My suspicions are further exacerbated by the fact that the Buhari government is pressuring an independent and self-governing arm of government with the aim of getting CJN Walter Onnoghen to resign or be pushed aside.

 “I stand on the side of the rule of law and believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

“If Justice Walter Onnoghen is guilty of the charges about to be preferred against him, let his guilt be determined by a competent court of law and not by the Buhari administration.

The executive cannot usurp the role of the judiciary. Nigeria is still a democracy and not a fascist dictatorship as President Buhari may wish.

 “Any attempt to force Justice Walter Onnoghen to vacate his office, four weeks to an election for which the unpopular Buhari administration has shown every intention to manipulate, is a move pregnant with negative meaning.

“I see no reason whatsoever for the ongoing pressure by the Buhari government to force Justice Walter Onnoghen to vacate office when he has not been convicted for any offence. I therefore call on the President to respect the principle of separation of powers and abide by the rule of law on this matter and stop any interference or pressure on Justice Walter Onnoghen, or the judiciary and allow the law and the Constitution takes its full course.”

NBA says it’s a desecration of the judiciary

In its reaction, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said the CJN’s arraignment is an assault on the judiciary.

“The Nigerian Bar Association unequivocally condemns this assault, intimidation and desecration of the Judiciary by FGN agencies and demands that it be stopped immediately,” it said.

It quoted Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) LPELR-43391(CA), where the Court of Appeal made it very clear that any misconduct attached to the office and functions of a judicial officer must first be reported to and handled by the National Judicial Council pursuant to the provisions of the law.

“Only after the NJC has pronounced against such judicial officer can the prosecuting agencies of the federal government proceed against him. Our respective liberties and the rule of law are best protected and preserved if the judiciary remains independent and shielded from intimidation and assault by the other arms of the government,” it added.

Also reacting, a legal practitioner, Mr. Mike Ozekhome said the tradition of subjecting the leadership of other two arms of government to harassment and intimidation will result to heavy disinvestment in the country, as it will create the impression that Nigeria is not safe for investment.

 He described the charges of false assets declaration as vindictive, very political and showed that Nigeria has finally become an anarchical state, dictatorial, despotic, totalitarian and absolutist state.

 “It took about six months before President Mohammadu Buhari confirmed Justice Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria. He did not want to confirm his nomination. Nigerians cried out on the television, in the print and on social media against the injustice perpetuated by the executive.

 “We argued that under the Constitution, Justice Onnoghen was the next in rank and having not done anything wrong, he should be confirmed, and finally, he was confirmed. I want to believe that they confirmed him because they did not find anything wrong against him,” said Ozekhome.

 He asked: “How come then that more than one year into his tenure as the CJN and less than 40 days to the 2019 Presidential election when the Chief Justice is expected to play a major role of setting up a presidential election tribunal, they suddenly remembered that Onnoghen had operated a domiciliary account in 2010 and 2011, more than eight years ago?

 “How come they did not find out this fact or this so-called allegation in almost one and half years ago that he has been the CJN? How come it is coming on the eve of election?

 “How come the so-called game show, the petition was written on January 7, two days later, it was received by CCB, two days after, the charges were filed and on Monday, the CJN would be put on trial?

How come that they also quickly came up with another motion that the CJN should excuse himself?

 “How come these things are done within the space of five days within which the CCB could not confront the person accused with the evidence or allow him to replay?

How come these people are undermining our criminal justice system, which presumes one innocent until proven guilty and they are turning to a French model where you presume an accused guilty before he is proven innocent?

 “How come they are undermining Section 36 of the Constitution, which presumes one innocent until found guilty? How come these people are turning Nigeria into a laughing stock before the comity of nations?

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