Abuja, Nigeria: Walter Onnoghen has resigned as the chief justice of Nigeria (CJN) with immediate effect. 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 was reportedly 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.
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 disclosed.
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.
The lawyer to the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) has explained why his client resigned.
Awomolo on Friday confirmed the development.
According to him, Onnoghen resigned on Thursday. Awomolo disclosed that his client explained that he took the decision in interest of the judiciary.
The lawyer said: “I have just spoken with him. He confirmed to me that he resigned yesterday.
“He said he resigned in the interest of the Judiciary.”
Onnoghen’s Resignation: Buhari Is Vindicated, Says APC
The All Progressives Congress (APC) said on Friday that the resignation of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen has vindicated the action of the President and the stand of the party who earlier called for his resignation.
Justice Onnoghen’s resignation is coming few hours after the National Judicial Council reportedly recommended to the President Muhammadu Buhari to retire him with full benefits.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu told newsmen in his office that the resignation of the suspended CJN would have been the first step for him to take when it became obvious that he made a mistake of not properly declaring his assets as required by law.
He said with the CJN standing trial for none declaration of assets and the previous trial of the Senate President for the same purpose, it is gradually becoming clear to public office holders that there is nobody above the law in the country.
Onilu said a time is coming when a President who misbehaves will also be docked for wrong doing, stressing that all those who criticised the President for obeying the ruling of the Code of Conduct Tribunal will now realise that their action was not in their interest of the country.
Onilu said: “The issue we have in this country is that, many people, especially those who have been part of the impunity of the past are struggling badly to adjust to the reality of rule of law. That is the major issue we are facing in this country.
“There are so many struggles to allow the past. It is not good enough for us as a country to allow it go. All of us must rise and face the future; a future of promise and a future of change, so that we can move to the ‘Next Level’.
“When this happened, the PDP and some of their allies in the Civil Societies read the barometer of politics and we do know that, until we rise above sentiments, no matter what part of the divide you find yourself, we must realise that this as an issue that has to do with our country. That is the only way we can progress.
“We knew right from the beginning that what the allegations against the former Chief Justice of Nigeria were too serious to be swept under the carpet and we know that the President does not act on frivolities.
“He must have done his background checks and must have gotten good information to have taken the action he took especially when there was basis for the action that can be legally proven.
“[b]Those lawyers, so-called Senior Advocate of Nigeria who had over the years dip their hands along with some of these judicial officers into the till of this country, continued to lampoon the President, lampoon the APC and blaming this government that is doing its best to right several of the wrongs that we have been used to.
“We were actually the one trying to deepen democracy and this party rose in the defense of the President because we understand what the President was doing and that he meant well, and we know the real purpose that drives his actions.
“Now, events have proven the President right. Events have proven the party, APC right. Events have proven those Nigerians who believe Nigeria first and any other things after – events have proven them right.
“We all can only be hiding behind one finger, otherwise we knew Nigerians, reasonable Nigerians knew from the word go that those allegations were not cooked up and if they were real, the next thing for the CJN to have done was to have stepped aside. If he had done that, the question of, he wouldn’t be the only one, why he should not have arisen? There is nowhere in the world where judgment is passed on every sinner at once.
“It is not every armed robber you can catch the same day. And even some you know, the slow pace of justice may not catch up with them immediately, but we must continue to see evidence that we are moving towards that sanity and that we are making progressive efforts and sending strong signals to people who think this country must continue as long as they are comfortable and the rest of Nigerians are suffering. We must send that signal to them that it is not going to be business as usual.
“Now, you have seen the head of National Assembly, Senate President in the dock. Now, you have seen the CJN in the dock. So, one day, we will see a President that will also misbehaves, in the dock which now shows that nobody is above the law and that we are all equal before the law.[/b]
“So, anybody who finds himself in any position should now begin to look closely at his own actions knowing fully well that today may protect him but tomorrow may expose him.”
Also reacting to the development, the Buhari Media organisation the failure of Justice Walter Onnoghen (suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, (CJN) to declare his assets and thus breaching the Code of Conduct expected from Judicial Officers, among several other malfeasances and breach of the Money Laundering Act, are too grave to be treated with kids gloves.
In statement signed by Niyi Akinsiju and Cassidy Madueke, its Coordinator and Secretary respectively, noted that the offences that are being prosecuted and that have been petitioned against Justice Walter Onnoghen have tainted the sanctity of the judiciary and are not matters to be played with or treated with levity.
“Justice Walter Onnoghen is alleged to have out rightly failed to
declare some of his assets. In fact, he declared only salary accounts, but failed to declare accounts where he had funds that were far above his legitimate earnings as a public officer.
“There is also no evidence that he ever declared his assets since his appointment as a judicial officer from 1989 up until 2016. This is an outright breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers under the 1999 Constitution. And is the least expected from a man who sat at the pinnacle of Nigeria’s Judiciary, and who should ordinarily be the one to mete punishments to others who commit such breaches.
“The ‘Chief Justice of Nigeria’ is also alleged to have had money that he could not reasonably explain the source, but which were lodged in various accounts operated by him. He had over 1.7 Million Dollars in his dollar accounts which he conspicuously never declared.”
According to the group, the receipt by the Justice Onnoghen of pecuniary gifts from various lawyers who had cases in his court breached the Rules of Judicial Conduct which out rightly prohibits Judges from receiving pecuniary gifts from lawyers who had cases before them.
“Justice Onnoghen received several gifts, ranging from a luxury car worth 7 Million Naira to a deposit of $30,000 from lawyers who had cases before him.”
They criticised Justice Onnoghen for maintaining suspicious relationships with lawyers who had serious cases in his court, noting that such conducts created perceptions of bias which is against the Rules of Judicial Conduct.
The group noted that Justice Onnoghen failed to maintain the minimum standard of decorum expected from judicial officers, saying “the many infractions of Justice Walter Onnoghen are so grave, they have fouled the temple of Justice.
“It is even most unfortunate that this man was sitting in the highest judicial office of the land. He has embarrassed the legal profession and brought shame and disdain to the judiciary.
“We must not treat this matter with kids gloves. We expect the toughest sanctions to be meted out to him. What Justice Onnoghen has done does not deserve mercy but serious punitive and corrective sanctions that must send a clear message to other members of the Bench, while assuring Nigerians that the Judiciary still remains the last hope for the common and even uncommon man.”