Home News Embattled CJN Walter Onnoghen May Face Fresh Criminal Charges

Embattled CJN Walter Onnoghen May Face Fresh Criminal Charges

by Anita Ogona

There were indications that the federal government had taken fresh steps to ensure that the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, does not return to his seat but finds a place in one of the country’s prisons to spend some time off. It was learnt that the government had taken the new initiative to press new criminal charges against the embattled CJN irrespective of his clearance or otherwise by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, currently trying him for non-declaration of assets.

The new plan is to drag him to a Federal High Court with wider jurisdiction than the CCT and fresh criminal charges slammed on him, thereby making it more difficult for him to escape justice.

A top federal government official, who pleaded anonymity said there is a lot of focus on the CCT case, there are actually three aspects to the Onnoghen trial. According to the source “when President Muhammadu Buhari decided to suspend Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen on the 25th of January, 2019, it was in response to serious allegations of irregularities, illegalities and criminal conduct contained in petitions submitted against the top judicial officer, and indeed some findings of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which not only substantiated those petitions but threw up even more damning facts.

Since then, there have been several public revelations and judicial proceedings which are sometimes confusing to members of the general public. “For clarity, there are two different cases currently ongoing before constituted panels and a separate ethical issue in the public domain, The source, who is familiar with government’s plan over the matter then went ahead to list the three aspects thus: A: CASE BEFORE THE CODE OF CONDUCT TRIBUNAL The first point of focus has been the failure of the Chief Judge to declare his assets immediately after taking office and every four years thereafter, as required by the 1999 Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, and the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act. This particular illegality has been admitted in writing by the Chief Justice himself and is a matter for criminal prosecution now before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). But we must note that because of its specialized nature, CCT has a narrow jurisdiction and the case before it is confined to the issues of asset declaration, failure to declare assets as required by law and false declaration of assets. That is what the CCT had been hearing since charges were first filed against the CJN on the 10th of January, 2019. The prosecution recently closed its case and lawyers to the suspended CJN are now to open the defence or make a no case submission.

Just for clarity, it is worth emphasizing that the CCT will only treat issues relating assets declaration.

 B. CASE BEFORE THE NATIONAL JUDICIAL COUNCIL The more interesting aspect of the suspended CJN’s dilemma involves allegations of several breaches of the criminal and anti-corruption laws, including money laundering, bribery and tax evasion. It is alleged, for instance, that the suspended CJN is the owner of some domiciliary accounts primarily funded through US dollar cash deposits made by himself. More disturbing is the pattern of deposits which, according to EFCC, were made in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials. These include instances of repeated cash deposits of 10,000 US dollars each, totaling close to two million dollars. These serious allegations would ordinarily have gone to the High Court for prosecution, but for a case precedent which stipulates that such allegations against a judicial officer should first be presented to the National Judicial Council, more or less an internal disciplinary panel for erring judicial officers, before being prosecuted in a criminal court. The allegations of unexplained wealth, huge cash deposits being made into the suspended CJ’s naira, dollar and pound sterling accounts directly from the court and well beyond his estacode and other allowances; unexplained payments into the suspended CJN’s account by lawyers who at the same time were appearing before him for adjudication, etc, are currently being handled by the NJC and would be filed in court after the NJC has made its decision on them.

 According to the source “We must not miss the point that EFCC is also a petitioner against the suspended CJN. After carrying out an extensive investigation, some of the findings submitted by the Commission are truly shocking. For instance, there are findings to the effect that the CJN received a Mercedes Benz car and dollar cash deposits from a certain Joe Agi, appearing as a Senior Advocate before the Supreme Court in high profile cases. Worse still, the CJN is shown to have received cash gifts directly into his bank accounts from several other senior advocates, one of which is currently the President of the Bar Association. These implicating cash transactions were going on, in dollar and naira, even up to 2017 and 2018.

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