While his trial is ongoing over allegations of non-declaration of assets at the Code of Conduct Tribunal chaired by Justice Danladi Umar, suspended CJN Justice Walter Onnoghen has decided to be smart by half by tendering his resignation letter from office with effect from April 8, 2019. This is coming barely a week after the National Judicial Council (NJC) had recommended the retirement from office of Justice Onnoghen after considering the EFCC petition against him. The recommendation of the NJC itself is full of biases, contradictions and self-serving.
It is glaring from the submission of the prosecution at the CCT trial that Justice Onnoghen cannot escape justice as he had earlier on admitted that he forgot to declare his assets as at the time he was sworn- in as the Acting CJN. To say the least, Justice Onnoghen has infringed on the country’s law and therefore must be tried appropriately and commensurately sentenced accordingly like any other criminal.
Even though Onnoghen’s resignation is a welcome development as it shows that the war against corruption as a key policy point of the PMB administration is on course and making substantial progress; however, the course of justice must not be derailed by those who are statutorily employed by the state to custodians of the country’s judiciary and judicial process. The media was recently inundated with reports of the NJC recommending the retirement of Justice Onnoghen.
The NJC, however, fell short of critically examining the issues behind its recommendation to the President. To the best of our knowledge, the EFCC wrote a petition against suspended CJN alleging that misconduct. Justice Onnoghen had lost the morality of authority to continue as Nigerian CJN with the kind of litany of allegations bordering on misconduct. NJC has from all indications failed to address the issues of the EFCC petition squarely and holistically. Their recommendation of compulsory retirement is just nothing but a cover up to provide a soft landing for a ‘criminal’ like Justice Onnoghen who is the top judicial officer of the country.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has petitioned the National Judicial Council and considering the weight of overwhelming evidence against suspended CJN alleging that since his appointment as a judicial officer in 1989 in the Judiciary of Cross Rivers state, there is no evidence to show that he has ever declared his assets.
Key among the issues raised in the EFCC petition on Onnoghen to the NJC is that Justice Onnoghen has failed to “show with credible evidence how he legitimately earned the sum of $1,716,000.00 which is far above his lawful and provable income.”
One wonders why sensitive issues like this would be swept under the carpet by NJC and recommend a compulsory retirement for him. The president must not accept the recommendation of the NJC on the issues raised by EFCC and his case at the CCT.
My final position is that Onnoghen should not be treated with kid gloves. He has breached the provisions of CCT Act and therefore breached the constitution. What he deserves is not compulsory retirement but arraignment, conviction and dismissal from service. The danger is that should he get retirement, a bad precedent would have been set in the country’s public service, which includes the legislative and judicial arms of government.
Musa Ilallah, [email protected]