Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen’s five accounts have been frozen.
The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has requested the Director, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to freeze the accounts.
The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), in the charge it filed against the CJN before the Code of Conduct tribunal (CCT) for which he was to be arraigned on January 14, accused Justice Onnoghen of failing to declare the accounts.
In a letter, written on the official letterhead of the AGF, but signed by Abiodun Aikomo, dated January 14, 2019, and received same date at the office of the Director of NFIU, the AGF directed that the accounts be frozen pending the conclusion of the charge before the CCT.
The letter has as its heading: “Re: Request for freezing of bank accounts subject to investigation and prosecution pursuant to Presidential Executive Order No: 6 of 5th July 2018 on the Preservation of Assets Connected with Corruption.”
It reads: “I am directed by Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to request that you, pursuant to Executive Order 6 of 2018, forthwith restrict normal banking operations on certain accounts belonging to Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen pending final determination of the case against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT/ABJ/1/19 – Federal Republic of Nigeria v Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen Nkanu Walter Samuel.
“These accounts are: Account number 5001062683 (euro) Standard Chartered Bank; 5001062683 (pounds); 0001062650 (dollar); 0010626667 (naira), and 5001062683 (naira).”
The row over the rescheduled arraignment of the CJN continued yesterday, with the chairman of the Presidential Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay and a multilateral diplomat, Dr. Babafemi Badejo, giving reasons the CJN matter should not be referred to the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Prof. Sagay argued that Justice Onnoghen’s false asset declaration could not be first determined by the NJC, adding that those making such a suggestion got it wrong.
Read also: Sagay: Why NJC can’t consider Onnoghen’s case
Dr. Badejo said the NJC ought to have stepped aside to clear his name due to the nature of the office he occupied.
He disagreed with those accusing the Presidency of attempting to install a Northerner as CJN who will be sympathetic to the ruling party.
Badejo, former Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, faulted Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) who stormed the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) where Onnoghen was to be arraigned for alleged non-declaration of assets on Monday.
To him, Nigerians must dispassionately examine the facts in the petition from the Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative on whether there is a prima facie case against the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) rather than be swayed by legalistic reactions from many “so called Silk Wigs”.
Badejo said: “It should not matter that a Northerner could succeed Walter Onnoghen as CJN. The question at the Supreme Court is: Who is next? The Supreme Court should be viewed outside the nepotism associated with the current government.
“Furthermore, will a CJN foist his views on the entire Supreme Court? This sort of reasoning suggests that there is no faith in the judicial system.
“We can and should condemn the theatrics of the so called Silk Wigs in spite of the fact that they have the right to defend a rightly accused CJN before the CCB/CCT.
“Do we need more than one SAN to take on the Federal Government of Nigeria? So many SANs is a sign of weakness and not strength in numbers. All these exaggerations do not allow our country to be taken serious.”
On why he believes Chief Justice Onnoghen should step aside, Dr Badejo said: “The CJN is not an ordinary Nigerian. He is at the top of our Judiciary and once he faces a prima facie case of having committed a crime, the honourable answer is to step aside from trying to sit on top of any case in Nigeria.
“He should then defend his name or run away. If he is clean and freed, he should be financially compensated by way of a civil suit. The CJN as a post is very different from the Shenanigans of the politicians in our legislature and executive.
“If the over 100 Silk Wigs love the CJN and respect his office, they should persuade him to resign and run away like Ms. Kemi Adeosun who definitely has a crime that is ripe for trial hanging over her head.”
Badejo, who consults for the African Union (AU), said it should not be possible for any CJN to just be removed from office without due process, adding that the President or anyone for that matter must comply with extant law.
“A Judge that is cut with money laundering or stealing, murder etc, is subject to our laws on those crimes. It stands to reason that Judges are not above the law. The National Judicial Council (NJC) is to handle the protection that Judges deserve in the course of their duties.
“Many issues are yet to be handled with respect to Nigeria’s irreparably dishonoured CJN. For instance, if true that he has so many houses that were not declared as expected, has he been earning rental incomes on them? If he has, has he been paying taxes on such rental incomes or it has been amnesia all the way?
“The CJN depositing $10,000 five times in one day, etc., raises questions as to whether this unusual behavior is intent and act of avoidance of the money laundering law and regulations? What about Order No. 6 and the CJN’s assets that are now in the public space?
“The argument of politicisation to the effect that a petition was made and was speedily attended to should not lead to suggestions of politically induced timing. If a CJN were to drop dead 30 days before an election, would we as a nation not go ahead with our elections?
“Those making such arguments are either saying that the Head of the Judiciary is the Judiciary and all cannot function if he is not in office. These weak arguments are anti-institution building, hence against the democratisation of Nigeria,” said the former University of Lagos (UNILAG) don.
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) claimed it has uncovered an alleged plot by the Federal Government to “harm” the CJN.
Citing the AGF memo of the AGF to the NFIU, directing the freezing or Justice Onnoghen’s five accounts, CUPP spokesman Imo Ugochinyere alleged that the Federal Government was angry because the CJN “refused to compromise the composition of the post-2019 election Supreme Court Appeal Tribunal.”