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Alleged false asset declaration by Chief Justice Onnoghen; South-South Governors, Atiku, CJN react. Here’s all we know so far

Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen

Following charges against the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, by the Federal Government of Nigeria over alleged asset declaration offences, the Code of Conduct Bureau has slammed corruption charges against the CJN at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

The Nigerian Government had few days ago accused the CJN of failure to declare certain bank accounts dominated in local and foreign currencies in his asset declaration before emerging as the country’s head of judicial arm in 2017.

According to the Federal Government, Mr. Onnoghen in 2016 after the crackdown on judges of the Federal High Court, Appeal Court and Supreme Court, partially declared his asset, but however did not declare certain bank accounts linked to him at Standard Chartered Bank.

A group known as the Anti-corruption and Research based Data Initiative had written a petition against Mr. Onnoghen over suspected financial crimes and breaches of the Code of Conduct Bureau requirements.

For instance, the group alleged that the CJN in 2011 made fiver (5) different cast deposits of $10,000 each on 8th March 2011 into his Standard Chartered Bank Account.

Similar deposits were also made on 7th, 27th and 28th June 2011.

The group which is spearheaded by Denis Aghanya, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who also served as a publicity secretary in President Muhammadu Buhari’s former defunct party, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), said that its petition was necessary, due to the “imminence of the 2019 elections and the overwhelming role of the judiciary both before and after the election.”

The government apparently following these revelations consequently filed six (6) charges of non and fraudulent declaration of assets against the CJN.

Mr. Onnoghen trial would likely commence on Monday, January 14, at the Federal High Court in Jabi, Abuja, by a panel set up by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

Since the raid on federal judges (including a Supreme Court judge, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta ) in October 2016 by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS), this appears to be another big crackdown.

Report had it that President Buhari never wanted to confirm Onnoghen as CJN following his first appointment on November 10, 2017 after the retirement of Ex-CJN Mahmoud Mohammed.

President Muhammadu Buhari congratulating the Former Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Mahmud Mohammed while his successor, the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Walter Onnoghen (2r); Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (4l) and the Chief of Staff to the President. Mallam Abba Kyari (r) looked on shortly after the swearing in of the new CJN at the State House, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari congratulating the Former Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Mahmud Mohammed while his successor, the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Walter Onnoghen (2r); Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (4l) and the Chief of Staff to the President. Mallam Abba Kyari (r) looked on shortly after the swearing in of the new CJN at the State House, Abuja – Photo: Vanguard

There were also criticisms in some quarters during the period as Buhari failed to forward his name for confirmation as the most senior judge to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

His name was however forwarded on February 8, 2017 by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who was at the time the Acting President.

He was eventually sworn in to office as Nigeria’s 17th Chief Justice on March 8, 2017.

See below, copy of the charges filed against Justice Onnoghen by the Federal Government on January 10 (as seen on Premium Times Newspaper).

Anti-Corruption and Research based Data Initiative petition against Mr. Onnoghen

PETITION ON SUSPECTED FINANCIAL CRIMES AND BREACHES OF THE CODE OF CONDUCT BUREAU REQUIREMENTS AGAINST HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE W. S. NKANU ONNOGHEN, GCON, THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF NIGERIA
We write to bring to your attention serious concerns bothering on flagrant violations of the law and the Constitution of Nigeria by the Honourable Mr. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

Specifically, we are distressed that facts on the ground indicate the leader of our country’s judicial branch is embroiled in suspected financial crimes and breaches of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.

The particulars of our findings indicate that:

His Lordship Justice Walter 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.

To give specific examples, here are some instances of cash deposits by Justice Onnoghen:

Justice Onnoghen made five different cash deposits of $10,000 each on 8th March 2011 into Standard Chartered Bank Account 1062650;

On 7th June 2011, two separate cash deposits of $5000 each were made by Justice Walter Onnoghen, followed by four cash deposits of $10,000 each;

On 27th June 2011, Justice Onnoghen made another set of five separate cash deposits of $10,000 each and made four more cash deposits of $10,000 each on the following day, 28th June 2011;

Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen did not declare his assets immediately after taking office, contrary to Section 15 (1) of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act;

Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen did not comply with the constitutional requirement for public servants to declare their assets every four years during their career;

The Code of Conduct Bureau Forms (Form CCB 1) of Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen for 2014 and 2016 were dated and filed on the same day. The acknowledgement slip for Declarant SCN: 000014 was issued on 14th December 2016. The acknowledgement slip for Declarant SCN: 000015 was also issued on 14th December 2016, at which point Justice Onnoghen had become the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

The affidavit for SCN: 000014 was sworn to on 14th December 2016;

The affidavit for SCN: 000015 was sworn to on 14th December 2016;

Both forms were received on 14th December 2016 by one Awwal Usman Yakasai.

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 at 14th November 2014.

Union Bank account number 0012783291 in Calabar, with balance of N11, 456,311 as at 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 at 14th November 2016.

Standard Chartered account 00001062650, with balance of $164,804.82, as at 14th November 2016.

Standard Chartered account 5001062686, with balance of EUROS 55,154.56, as at 14th November 2016.

Standard Chartered Bank account 5001062679 with balance of GBP108,352.2, as at 14th November 2016.

Standard Chartered Bank account 5001062693 with balance of N8,131,195.27, as at 14th November 2016.

Union Bank account 00021464934 with balance of N23,261,568.89, as at 14th November 2016.

Union Bank account 0012783291 with balance of N14,695,029.12, as at 14th November 2016.

The foreign currency Standard Chartered Bank accounts that were declared by Declarant SCN: 000015 have been in existence since at least 2011.

Prior to 2016, His Lordship appears 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 Standard Chartered Bank dollar account 1062650 had a balance of $391,401.28 on 31st January 2011;

The Standard Chartered Bank Euro account 5001062686 had a balance of EURO 49,971.71 on 31st January 2011;

The Standard Chartered Bank pound sterling account 5001062679 had a balance of GBP23,409.66 on 28th February 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 Naira bank accounts in b (i) and b (v) above are also omitted in the CCB form of Declarant SCN: 000014.

It is our humble view that, with the foregoing, we have laid before you facts which support the assertion that Justice Walter Onnoghen may have committed a breach of the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act as follows:

Non-declaration of assets immediately after taking office in several capacities prior to becoming the Chief Justice of Nigeria contrary to section 15 of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act;

Non-declaration of assets immediately after taking office as the Chief Justice of Nigeria contrary to section 15 of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act;

55Non-declaration of assets at the statutory intervals after taking office throughout his career as a federal judicial officer contrary to section 15 of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act;

False declaration of asset, and in particular, concealment of significant and declarable assets in the form of sundry bank accounts and the balances therein, contrary to section 15 of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act;

Consequent to this information, it is our expectation and request that you will discharge the constitutional duty of your office and take the necessary lawful actions to uphold and enforce the law in this matter by involving sister agencies such as:

The Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to conduct comprehensive statistical analysis of cash transactions on all the accounts for cases of suspicious transactions.

The Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to determine whether Standard Chartered Bank has not breached statutory duties to the Nigerian State in favour of, or in connivance with, His Lordship on Suspicious Transactions Reporting (STR).

The Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the National Judicial Council (NJC) to determine whether the disclosed financial transactions are justified by His Lordship’s lawful remuneration.

As ordinary citizens, motivated by a clear belief that there must be high standards in public life, we have acted to expose a possible criminal breach of our laws. We believe it is now your duty to act, and to do so promptly,” the group wrote in the petition sent to the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

How Chief Justice Onnoghen responded so far to the accusation
In his response, the CJN told the Code of Conduct Bureau that after the expiration of his 2005 declaration, he forgot to update his asset declaration.

He further noted that he believed that the form SCN 000015 which was filed in December 2016 after his emergence as acting CJN would cover for the period after his confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“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,” Justice Onnoghen said in his statement to the Code of Conduct Bureau.

Code of Conduct Tribunal set up panel to try Justice Onnoghen
The trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria is expected to commence on Monday, 14, January, 2019, at 10:00am.

The CCT on Saturday announced that a three-member panel led by Justice Danladi Umar has been set up to try the CJN over his alleged false assets declaration.

The CCT in its statement issued by its Head of Press and Public Relations, Ibraheem Al-Hassan, said that the trial; “was consequent to application filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau to the CCT Chairman yesterday for the trial to commence against the Chief Justice of Nigeria on six count charges”.

“The application was filed yesterday by the operatives of CCB, dated 11st January, 2019 and signed by Musa Ibrahim Usman (Esq) and Fatima Danjuma Ali (Esq), containing 6 count charges all borders on non declaration of asset.”

South-South Governors to hold emergence meeting over CJN Onnoghen’s corruption trial
The six (6) governors of the South-South region on Saturday called for an emergency meeting over the allegations against Chief Justice Onnoghen.

Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State in a statement on Saturday said that; “It is a grave and dangerous escalation, coming a few weeks to the general elections.”

The meeting will be held today, Sunday, in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

All the South-South governors are members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), except the Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who is a member of the ruling APC.

Mr. Onnoghen is from Cross River, a state under the control of the PDP.

Governor Dickson through his spokesman, Fidelis Soriwei, said that; “all efforts must be on deck to prevent the subversion and desecration of the ethos of democracy in Nigeria as nation moves nearer to the election.”

South-South Governos

PDP Presidential Candidate, Atiku Abubakar, reacts
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in his reaction said that he suspects that the President Buhari administration was behind the allegations against Mr. Onnoghen.

Atiku said that it is all questionable considering that the timing of the charges against Justice Onnoghen is coming barely four (4) weeks to the presidential election.

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, 4 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 take its full course,” Atiku said in a statement issued by his media office.

PDP Presidential Candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar
PDP Presidential Candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar
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