Ahead of his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) slated for Monday, suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, has opened up on how he got the foreign currencies he deposited in his domiciliary accounts.
In a ‘Cautionary Statement Form’ filed at the Department of Intelligence Investigation and Monitoring, Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), in Abuja, he said the deposits in his dollar account were from trading in foreign exchange (forex), AGRICODE, while other investment returns were from proceeds of his investments.
Justice Onnoghen’s averments were contained in a voluntary statement he made at CCB.
In the statement, he specifically explained that “the deposits made in my US Dollar account No. 87000106250 with STD. Chartered Bank of $10,000 at different intervals of June 28, 2011 were sourced partly from my reserve and saving from my estacodes, including medical expenses.
“The same applies to my deposit of July 28, 2011, of $10,000 twice. It is important to state that prior to my opening the US dollar account, I had foreign currency, which I kept at home, due to the fact that there existed a government that proscribed the operation of foreign currency account by public officers including judicial officers.
“It was when I got to know that the policy had changed that I had to open the said account. Upon opening the account, I was made to understand that I cannot pay in more than $10,000 at a time and per payment slip. I cannot remember the total amount I had on reserve at the time, but it spread from my practice days as a private legal practitioner from 1979 to 1989.
“Some of the deposits are a result of forex trading, AGRICODE, and other investment returns were from proceeds of my investments into them. The withdrawals in the account are partly to pay children’s fees, upkeep abroad and further investments. My British pound and euro accounts with Chartered Standard Bank are savings accounts.”
In the January 1, 2019 document, the suspended jurist, who wrote his statement on January 11, 2019, between 12:30pm and 1: 45pm added: “I, Walter S. N. Onnoghen, of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, hereby, voluntarily depose to the statement averred herein, knowing that whatever I write or state may be tendered against me as evidence in court.
“I also volunteer to state that the statement was not taken in evidence from me under duress but after the administering officer had explained and made known the details of the allegations against me.”
In response to allegations of non-declaration of his assets, justice Onnoghen added: “My asset declaration for numbers. SCN000014 and SCN.0000 5 were declared on the same day, December 14, 2016 because I forgot to make a declaration of May 2005 of my assets after the expiration of my 2005 declaration in 2009.
“Following my appointment as acting chief justice of Nigeria in November 2016, the need to declare my asset anew made me to realise the mistake and then did the declarations 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 during the period covered by the declaration.
“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 the period of four years; which includes my leave as CJN.”
CCT: Onnoghen’s trial resumes Feb 4
The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) will resume the trial of suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, over alleged false declaration of assets, next Monday.
The tribunal fixed the date following the ruling of the Court of Appeal, which refused the application for stay of proceedings brought by Onnoghen.
A statement from the CCT’s head of press and public relations, Ibraheem Al-Hassan, yesterday, confirmed that the trial would resume on February 4. Al- Hassan explained that the date was fixed following an application by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) for the resumption of trial.
The said application, dated January 30 and jointly signed by Musa Ibrahim Usman and Fatima Danjuma Ali, read: “The above subject refers. This case came up for hearing of preliminary objection to the jurisdiction of the tribunal on the January 28, 2019, but the tribunal could not proceed due to the pendency of the case at the Court of Appeal.
“However, in the wake of this afternoon, January 30, 2019, the Court of Appeal has thrown out the appeal. Consequently, we urge the honourable tribunal to give us a date for resumption of the trial, subject to the convenience of the tribunal, most obliged, my lord.”
The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal on Wednesday refused to stay proceedings in the trial of the suspended CJN in the six-count charge of alleged false declaration filed against him by the Federal Government before the CCT.
The court refused to grant the application for stay of proceedings brought by Onnoghen on the ground that Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, does not allow a stay of proceedings in a criminal matter. It said that the tribunal being vested with a quasi-criminal jurisdiction is governed by the provisions of the ACJA, 2015, and its proceedings in a criminal matter cannot be stayed.
Onnoghen had in a motion on notice asked the appellate court to halt his trial at the CCT on grounds that the tribunal erred in law when it adjourned on January 14 to rule on both his motion challenging the tribunal’s jurisdiction as well as that of the Federal Government seeking the tribunal’s order asking him to step aside as CJN pending the determination of the charges against him at the CCT.
However, in a unanimous decision, the three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, led by Justice Abdul Aboki, ruled that the prayers of Onnoghen that proceedings at the tribunal be stayed were contrary to the provisions of Section 306 of the ACJA 2015.
…Democratic lawyers ask Onnoghen to resign
The National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADL) has asked the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, “to seriously consider a resignation from office in the interest of the Nigerian judiciary.”
It said the resignation was not an admission of guilt, but that Onnoghen should explore “the plea bargain provisions under Section 270 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and other similar provisions that may enable him wrap up his planned prosecution and earn himself a dignified and orderly exit from his current travails.
“In making this suggestion, NADL still believes in the presumed innocence of the suspended CJN under the law and the Constitution. The NADL does not deem or adjudge him guilty.”
It also accused the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) of bias in the ongoing travails of the suspended CJN. NADL said the leadership of the NBA was “mouthing hackneyed phrases about rule of law and due process,” without paying equal attention to ethical demands in the legal profession.
“NADL condemns the leadership of the NBA for its handling of the CJN’s charge and suspension issue. In its statements, pronouncements and resolutions, the NBA leadership has restricted itself to flaying the action of the executive branch of government, mouthing hackneyed phrases about rule of law, due process, independence of the judiciary, separation of powers and adherence to constitutional principles, without paying equal attention to ethical demands in a legal profession that prides itself as honourable, and giving necessary attention to the issue of integrity and credibility in the judiciary and how to effectively combat cases of corrupt practices in the legal profession, bar and bench. By this lopsided disposition, the NBA leadership has helped in portraying Nigerian lawyers as supporters of infamous conduct in the judiciary before the Nigerian people, especially non-members of the legal profession,” NADL said.
In a statement issued yesterday, the group also said judicial officers enjoy a “cloak of immunity” that shields them from criminal investigations of prosecutions and that the charges against Onnoghen at the CCT should “never have been filed.”
“In Nganjiwa v FRN, 2018, 4NWLR, Part 1609, 301 at 341 and 349, the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, had held that before a judicial officer in Nigeria who is accused of an act of misconduct, which may constitute a criminal offence, could be investigated, prosecuted and tried in a court of law in Nigeria, the judicial officer so accused first must have been subjected to the administrative disciplinary jurisdiction of the NJC (under sections 153 and 158 of the Constitution, and Part 1, paragraphs 20 and 21 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution) and removed from office, and stripped of his judgeship.
The judgment, in the view of the NADL is a protectionist judgment, calculated to grant judicial officers a cloak of immunity, similar to the executive immunity granted under Section 308 of the constitution, thereby shielding judicial officers from criminal investigations of prosecutions. In spite of the fundamental objections of NADL to the judgment of that Court of Appeal, now on appeal at the Supreme Court, every authority and person in Nigeria is bound by that judgment. For this sole reason, therefore, the CCT charges against Onnoghen ought not to have been filed,” NADL added.
In the statement signed by Jiti Ogunye, Chairman, Board of Governors NADL, the group called for a reversal of the suspension of Onnoghen and elevation of Justice Tanko Muhammed to acting CJN.
It said judges enjoy security of tenure under the constitution, which ensures they can only be removed through constitutional means.
“Under Section 292 of the Constitution, judicial officers, including the suspended CJN, have security of tenure, which guarantees that they can only be removed or suspended from office in accordance with the dictates of the Constitution. The NADL, therefore, calls for the reversal of the decision of the President, suspending CJN Onnoghen, and replacing him with an acting CJN,” the statement added.
NADL condemned what it called “the desperate resort to the National Industrial Court and the Federal High Court by the CJN, his allies and lawyers to obtain ex-parte orders of injunction, which were procured and granted with astounding and unusual alacrity to gag the CCT” and “prevent the arraignment and trial of CJN Onnoghen” and called on the Federal Government and Onnoghen to shun abuse of court processes and abuse of powers.
NADL commended the National Judicial Council (NJC) for taking up the matter and issuing queries to Onnoghen and Muhammed.
It, however, said it “has serious reservations about the patent lack of exhibition of urgency by the NJC in the consideration and resolution of the crisis.
“The Judiciary in Nigeria today is in a state of emergency. The NJC and its members would not have sacrificed too much for Nigeria and the judiciary, if it had elongated its sitting, accelerated its proceedings and conducted an expedited hearing and fast track determination of the petitions. The petitions could have been reacted to in one day, the focal issues being whether the suspended CJN fully and faithfully declared his assets, and if not why; and whether the acting CJN offered himself for appointment, and if so why? . Thus, a verdict in the form of recommendations to the executive branch of government (the President) could have been rendered in three days. By extending the petitions resolution period, the NJC, wittingly or unwittingly, is elongating the nightmare of the legal profession community in Nigeria and the people of Nigeria. The adjournment of the NJC meeting to 11th February, 2019, four days to the conduct of the Presidential and National Assembly Elections will further generate an avoidable state of paralysis, uncertainty and acrimony in the judiciary, in the legal profession and in the polity.”
The group asked politicians to refrain from further politicising the current crisis in the judiciary.
It said: “The clash of power is between the executive and the head of the judiciary, and not a clash of power with the entire Nigerian judiciary. Even if it was assumed that it was a clash of power between the executive and the judiciary, the legislature is not, at this stage, involved in the dispute to warrant the rumoured bid of the Senate or National Assembly to trigger the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Section 232 of the constitution, by filing an action in the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“Bringing an action between the National Assembly or Senate, under contemplation, to the same Judiciary will mean that the three arms of government will be entangled in a suit, the outcome and dimension of which may be unpredictable. To be clear, there is no cause of action between the Senate and the President on the CJN Onnoghene issue yet, as the Senate is yet to sit or have any session to adopt a resolution on the matter since CJN Onnoghene was charged to the CCT or suspended by the President. The statements being made “ from the throne” by the Senate Leadership cannot be a substitute for sittings and resolutions, as the power to confirm the appointment of a CJN or to remove him from office resides in the collectivity of the Senate, and not in the Senate Leadership alone. In the same vein, it is very doubtful whether the Senate Leadership can institute an action in the Supreme Court under the Original Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court without a formal authorizing resolution to that effect. If such an action is ever permitted by the Supreme Court, the Court may render itself open to individual senators or groups of senators bringing applications to challenge the competence of such an action, which being an action akin to a representative action must have the concurrence of all the unnamed represented parties.
…Nwabueze slams Buhari, CCT
Legal luminary, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, yesterday added his voice to those picking holes in the recent suspension of Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, by President Muhammadu Buhari, describing it as subversive of the Constitution.
He submitted that the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which issued the order for Onnoghen’s suspension, and Buhari, who executed the order, acted outside the provisions of the Constitution.
The elder statesman, in a statement he personally signed, urged the public to unite and loudly condemn the CJN’s suspension in the interest of Nigeria’s democracy and Constitution.
He held that: “the CCT acted ultra vires the Constitution in making the order directing the President to suspend the CJN from office. The suspension is unconstitutional, null and void.
“The suspension of the CJN from office is, in itself, a most condemnable subversion of the Constitution.”
He warned that “this sad episode in our history would not be completely resolved by the resignation of Onnoghen, as is being suggested in some quarters, unless the President, as the person who brought this whole mess upon us, also resigns.”
He also demanded that the “Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), and Justice Danladi Umar must also resign.”
The eminent lawyer said it was shocking that President Buhari based his suspension of the CJN on the order of the CCT even when he knew that the tribunal lacked the power to direct him to take such action and that he was not constitutionally empowered to oust a CJN.
He contended that “the President’s statement raises several questions, the most crucial of which is as to whether the CCT has the power to order or direct the President to suspend the CJN.”
“Second, whether the president, incarnating the Nigerian state, and as guardian of its Constitution, is bound to carry out the order, even when he knows, as he ought to know, that he has no power to suspend the CJN.
“Third, do the circumstances in which the order of the CCT was obtained not suggest a pre-meditated plan to subvert the constitution?
“With respect to the first question above, the suspension is manifestly subversive of paragraph 18 of the Fifth Schedule to the constitution (1999).
“The impression created by his statement is that the president is trying to hide under the cover of the principle that an order of court directing him to do something imposes upon him a duty to carry out the order, notwithstanding that he does not have the power to do the thing in question, and that we are thereby precluded from enquiring as to whether or not he in fact has the necessary power.
“The ex-parte order the president obtained from the CCT directing him to suspend the CJN from office does not, and cannot, erase the fact that he lacks the power to do that. The New Webster Dictionary of the English Language defines ‘suspend’ to mean “to remove temporarily from an office, to cause to cease for a time from operation or effect.
“The CJN is both the head of the judiciary, in which role he exercises largely administrative functions, as well as a justice of the Supreme Court; his removal (or suspension) from office as CJN can only be effected by the president with the support of two-thirds majority of the Senate, while his removal as an ordinary justice of the Supreme Court is by the president on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) – section 292 Constitution 1999. The suspension (removal) of the CJN from office by the president does not comply with the two requirements of section 292 of the Constitution and is therefore null and void, notwithstanding that it is ordered by the CCT.
“President had followed the suspension of the CJN with the appointment of the most senior justice of the Supreme Court as acting CJN.
“The validity of the acting appointment depends on whether there is a vacancy in the office. Without a vacancy, no one can validly be appointed to the office in an acting capacity. Be that as it may, an acting appointment must comply either with any special constitutional provisions relating thereto or, if there is none, then, with the general provisions governing the appointment of a CJN.”
He explained that these “require the appointment to be made by the president on the recommendation of the NJC subject to confirmation by the Senate, Section 231(1). The 1999 Constitution has no special provision relating to the appointment of a CJN in acting capacity.
“The general provisions in section 231(1) therefore apply. The circumstances surrounding the suspension of Onnoghen and the hurried swearing-in of Mohammed as acting CJN suggest that section 231(1) is not complied with in the swearing-in of the latter. The acting appointment is therefore null and void.”