Walter Onnoghen has resigned as the chief justice of Nigeria (CJN) with immediate effect, TheCable can report.
He turned in his resignation letter to President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday evening, a day after the National Judicial Council (NJC) recommended that he be compulsorily retired for misconduct.
By virtue of section 306 of the 1999 constitution, his resignation takes immediate effect.
Section 306 says “(1) Save as otherwise provided in this section, any person who is appointed, elected or otherwise selected to any office established by this Constitution may resign from that office by writing under his hand addressed to the authority or person by whom he was appointed, elected or selected. (2) The resignation of any person from any office established by this Constitution shall take effect when the writing signifying the resignation is received by the authority or person to whom it is addressed or by any person authorised by that authority or person to receive it.”
The resignation, TheCable understands, was the “best possible option” for Onnoghen under the current circumstance.
It will also save Buhari from having to get two-thirds majority of the senate to confirm Onnoghen’s retirement as stipulated in Section 292 (1) of the 1999 constitution which says a “judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances – (a) in the case of – (i) Chief Justice of Nigeria… by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.”
Buhari may not be able to muster the needed majority.
TheCable previously reported that Onnoghen’s retirement benefits in cash and kind will cost tax payers about N2.5 billion.
As part of the package for a retired chief justice, a house will be built for him in Abuja with a nine-digit sum for furnishing — in addition to a severance gratuity that is 300% of his annual basic salary of N3,363,972.50, as well as pension for life.
Just like state governors, a retired chief justice is entitled to a number of domestic staff and sundry allowances for personal upkeep.
This package for judicial officers was put together by the NJC long before Onnoghen became the CJN in 2017.
However, if he is dismissed, he will not be entitled to any benefits.
Onnoghen chose the option of resignation as a measure of damage control, his associates told TheCable.
TheCable reported on Wednesday that the NJC had recommended the embattled CJN for compulsory retirement after deliberating on a petition by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which alleges “financial impropriety, infidelity to the constitution and other economic and financial crimes related laws”.
Onnoghen, who denied all allegations, is also undergoing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over charges of false asset declaration.
Onnoghen has closed his defence at the CCT and the tribunal is expected to give its judgment at the next sitting on April 15.
But for the crisis, Onnoghen, who is 68, was due for retirement in 2020.
If the “soft landing” option is favoured by Buhari, the EFCC may not proceed with filing criminal charges while the case at the CCT could become academic because the major punishment for Onnoghen would have been his removal from office.
He could be banned from holding public office for 10 years, while his assets believed to have been acquired illegitimately will be confiscated.
Below is EFCC report that may have swung the NJC’s alleged report against Onnoghen:
BETWEEN: THE ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL CRIMES COMMISSION AND JUSTICE WALTER SAMUEL NKANU ONNOGHEN GCON.
THE PETITIONER’S FINAL ADDRESS IN RESPECT OF PETITION ON FINANCIAL IMPROPRIETY, INFIDELITY TO THE CONSTITUTION AND OTHER ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL CRIMES RELATED LAWS AGAINST HON. JUSTICE WALTER SAMUEL NKANU ONNOGHEN GCON.
My lords, by petition dated the 4th day of February, 2019 signed by the Ag. Executive Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (hereinafter called, petitioner) to the Chairman, National Judicial Council, allegations of FINANCIAL IMPROPRIETY, INFIDELITY TO THE CONSTITUTION AND OTHER ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL CRIMES RELATED LAWS were leveled against the Respondent. See exhibit P10.
Furthermore, my lords, by another letter dated the 5th day of March,2019, the Petitioner forwarded additional facts and findings to the Chairman of the Council which letter was referred to this Honourable Committee for necessary action. The petitioner adopted this additional facts and finding before this Committee and was admitted and marked exhibit P10A.
My lords, at the hearing of this petition, the petitioner called 7 witnesses and tendered documentary evidence which were admitted and marked as shown in the table below:
S/N PARTICULARS OF THE EXHIBIT EXHIBIT NUMBER
1 RESPONDENT’S ACCOUNT HERITAGE BANKC P1
2 LETTER FROM HERITAGE BANK DATED 24/10/16 FORWARDING THE STATEMENT OF ACCOUNT OF THE RESPONDENT TO EFCC P2
3 RESPONDENTS UNION BANK SALARY ACCOUNT P3
4 RESPONDENT’S STANDARD CHARTERED BANK STATEMENTS OF ACCOUNT –
I. Naira Account (015001062693) – P4
II. Naira Account (0100260075400) – P4A
III. GBP Account (2850160075400) – P4B
IV. USD Account (8700260075400) – P4C1 & 4C2
V. Euro Account (9350160075400) – P4D
VI. Investment Portfolio Statements – P4E
5 UBA STATEMENT OF ACCOUNT OF NGOZI LAURA P5
6 INTERNAL MEMO FROM PROTOCOL UNIT SUPREME COURT TO THE CHEIF REGISTRAR DATED 11 Oct. 2018 P6
7 CIRCULAR TO ALL HEADS COURT DATED 28 MAY 2007 P7
8 LETTER FROM THE SUPREME COURT DATED 19TH FEBRUARY, 2019 TO EFCC WITH ATTACHED REGISTERED OF CASH SIGNED FOR AND RECEIVED BY THE RESPONDENT P8
9 FEDERAL TREASURY (CIRCULAR ON E-PAYMENT) DATED 22ND OCTOBER, 2008 P9
10 PETITION DATED 4TH FEBRUARY,2019 P10
11 EFCC LETTTER DATED 5TH MARCH,2019FORWARDING ADDITIONAL FACTS TO NJC LETTER P10A
12 RESPONDENT’S STATEMENT TO CCB P11
13 RESPONDENT’S ASSET DECLARATION FORMS P12
14 SUPREME COURT JUDGMENT (CHIEF I. OHAKIM& ANOR V CHIEF MARTIN AGBASO& ANOR) (2010) NWLR (PT1226) 172 S.C, Suit No. SC3/2010 P13
15 STATEMENT OF JAMES ONOJA, SAN TO EFCC DATED 11TH AND 12TH MARCH 2019 P14 & P 15
16 STATEMENT OF IKPEAZU ONYEACHI, SAN TO EFCC DATED 4TH MARCH 2019 P16
17 Statement of Paul Usoro, SAN to EFCC Dated 4th March, 2019 P17
18 Statement of Emeka Etiaba, SAN to EFCC Dated 4th March, 2019 P18
19 Statement of Joe Agi, SAN to EFCC Dated 6th Feb. 2019 P19
20 Statement of Joe Agi, SAN to EFCC Dated 7th Feb. 2019 P20
21 Statement of Joe Agi, SAN to EFCC Dated 1 March 2019 P21
It is also worthy of note that exhibits P17-P21 were tendered by the Respondent through PW7 Hary Erin, the Investigating Officer of the Petitioner.
My lords, the Respondent called the Acting Director of Finance and Account of the Supreme Court and also testified on his own behalf. In the course of his defence, the Respondent tendered documentary evidence through DW1 and himself. The exhibits are as shown in the table below:
S/N PARTICULARS OF THE EVIDENCE EXHIBIT NUMBER
1 Financial Regulations of the FRN p.80-81, Rule 1411, 1412 (II)&(III) Dated January 2009 R1
2 Foreign Currency (Domiciliary Accounts) Act Cap 151, LFN 1985 R2
3 Foreign Exchange (Monitoring and Miscellaneous Provisions) Decree N0. 17, 1995 R3
4 Judgment of the FCT High Court in Suit No. FCT/HC/CR/21/2016 delivered 2017 R4
5 Judgment of the Court of Appeal in Appeal No. CA/A/371c/2017 delivered 2018 R5
6 Respondent’s response to the first petition dated 4th February,2019 R6
7 Respondent’s response to EFCC’S Petition dated 19th February,2019 R7
8 Respondent’s response to EFCC’S ADDITIONAL FACT R8
9 Wedding Invitation for the Respondent’s Daughter R9
10 PURPORTED PRINT OUT FROM THE EFCC WEBSITE R10
ISSUE FOR DETERMINATION
We respectively submit that the sole issue for the determination of this Honourable Committee is whether in view of the evidence adduced by the Petitioner, it can be said that the Respondent has not breached the Code of conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
ARGUMENT ON THE ISSUE
My lords, it is our humble submission that from the evidence on record, it cannot be said that the Respondent has not breached the Code of Conducts for Judicial Officers. My lords by virtue of his appointment as a Judicial Officer, the Respondent has a duty to actively participate in establishing, maintaining, enforcing and observing a high standard of conduct that will ensure and preserve transparently the integrity of the Judiciary. The Respondent is also duty bond, in the performance of his duties to adhere and observe strictly the rules set out in the Code of conduct for Judicial Officer and failure to do so automatically constitutes misconduct. We humbly refer my lords to the Preamble to the Code of Conduct for Judicial
It is must be stated that the Code of Conduct for the Judicial Officers serves as the minimum standard of conduct to be observed by each and every judicial Officers. My lords, this explains why the preamble to the code provides: “therefore, this code of conduct for Judicial Offices of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is hereby adopted to serve as the minimum standard of conduct to be observed by each and every Judicial officer as defined in this code.