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President Buhari congratulates Justice Tanko Muhammed after being sworn-in as CJN.
By Ismaila Chafe
President Muhammadu Buhari has suspended the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, pending the completion of his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Meanwhile, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed has immediately been sworn in as acting CJN.
Onnoghen is currently facing charges bordering on non-declaration of some of his assets, especially accounts of foreign currencies.
65-year-old Justice Muhammad, from Bauchi state, is the most senior justice of Supreme Court of Nigeria.
He attended Government Secondary School, Azare where he obtained the West Africa School Certificate in 1973 before he proceeded to Ahmadu Bello University where he received a bachelor’s degree in Law in 1980.
He later obtained a Master and Doctorate (Ph. D) degrees from the same university in 1984 and 1998 respectively.
Case against Onnoghen
The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) had scheduled Monday Jan. 14 for the arraignment of Onnoghen, on allegations of false and non- asset declarations.
Mr Ibraheem Al-Hassan, the tribunal’s Head, Press and Public Relations, has said the action was consequent upon an application filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to the chairman of the tribunal.
Al-Hassan said the application was signed by Mr Ibrahim Usman and Mrs Fatima Ali on behalf of the bureau.
He said the tribunal would commence the trial of the CJN on six-count charge as the service of summons had been effected on the defendant.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative (ARDI) filed the petition at the Code of Conduct (CCB) against Justice Onnoghen.
Mr Dennis Aghanya, Executive-Secretary of the organization, who made the copy of the petition available to NAN on Saturday in Abuja, said the body had acted as a whistleblower.
Aghanya said the petition, which was filed on Jan. 7, was an offshoot of a painstaking investigation into the dealings of the CJN.
He said the organisation was of the strong opinion that the allegations were weighty enough to compel an action against Justice Onnoghen.
The petition reads in parts: “we hereby petition you on suspected 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 petition you based on the alarming facts detailed below, all of which indicate that the leader of our country’s judicial branch is embroiled in suspected official corruption, 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.
“These appear to have been run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials.’’
The body had alleged that Justice Onnoghen made five different cash deposits of 10,000 dollars each on March 8, 2011 into Standard Chartered Bank Account 1062650.
The group also alleged that the CJN on June 7, 2011, made two separate cash deposits of 5000 dollars each.
It was also alleged that the June 7, 2011 transactions were followed by another four cash deposits of 10,000 dollars each.
Similarly, ARDI further alleged that Justice Onnoghen had on June 27, 2011, made another set of five separate cash deposits of 10,000 dollars each and made four more cash deposits of 10,000 dollars on June 28, 2011.
The body alleged that the CJN had also failed to declare his assets immediately after taking office, adding that the inaction was contrary to Section 15 (1) of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
ARDI also alleged that Onnoghen did not comply with the constitutional requirement for public servants to declare their assets every four years during their career.
The group alleged that the Code of Conduct Bureau Forms (Form CCB 1) belonging to Justice Onnoghen for 2014 and 2016 were dated and filed on the same day.
The group alleged that the acknowledgement slip for Declarant SCN: 000014 was issued on Dec.14, 2016 while that for Declarant SCN: 000015 was also issued on Dec.14, 2016.
The petitioner alleged that the two CCB acknowledgment slips were issued to Justice Onnoghen when he had been sworn-in as the CJN.
“The affidavit for SCN: 000014 was sworn to on 14th December 2016; 2 of 6 b. 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,’’ the petitioner alleged.
According to the petitioner, the CJN runs Union Bank account number 0021464934 in Abuja, with balance of N9, 536,407 on Nov. 14, 2014.
The body alleged that the second account the CJN said he runs is Union Bank number 0012783291 in Calabar, with balance of N11, 456,311 as at Nov. 14, 2014.
The petitioner said the sources of the funds in the accounts were stated as salaries, estacodes and allowances.
The petitioner, however, alleged that Justice Onnoghen as Declarant SCN: 000015, had listed seven bank accounts that were in use.
The group said the CJN was linked to Standard Chartered account 00001062667, with balance of N3, 221,807.05 as at Nov. 14, 2016.
Another account they alleged was operated by the CJN included Standard Chartered account 00001062650, with balance of $164,804.82, as at Nov.14 2016.
The other account linked to him is Standard Chartered with account number 5001062686, with balance of 55,154.56 Euros as at Nov. 14, 2016 among others.
Earlier on Thursday, January 25, 2019, Martins Odeh of NAN reported that the Court of Appeal on Thursday ordered a stay of proceedings on the trial of Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) until Jan. 30.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the order is the sequel to an application by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) on behalf of the CJN.
Justice Abdul Aboki, leading two other justices of the appellate court, held that the order was a temporary stay pending ruling on a substantive motion brought by the CJN.
Olanipekun had approached the court praying for an order restraining the Code of Conduct of Tribunal (CCT) from proceeding with Onnoghen’s trial pending the determination of an application challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal.
NAN recalls that the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) had filed a six-count charge against Onnoghen bothering on the allegation of a non-assets declaration.
At the resumption of the trial on Jan.14, the arraignment of the defendant was stalled as his team of counsel claimed he was not properly served with the notice of summons.
However, on the following adjourned date, being Jan. 22, the tribunal was prepared to commence the trial when it had established that the defendant had been properly served with the notice of summons.
The process was stalled again with the absence of the defendant and a motion brought by Olanipekun urging the tribunal to restrain itself from continuing with the trial.
The defendant’s counsel had brought to the knowledge of the panel of three subsisting restraining orders from High Courts in Abuja barring it from continuing the trial.
Olanipekun had also insisted that the defendant’s motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to handle the matter should be treated first before any other proceeding could happen.
Malam Umar Aliyu (SAN), Counsel to the Federal Government, had objected to such order of trial, adding that the defendant must take his plea by being arraigned before any motion could be heard.
The prosecution had along the charge, filed an application urging the tribunal to order the stepping aside of the CJN pending the determination of the petition.
Chairman of the tribunal, Umar Danladi, went ahead to describe the orders from three High Courts restraining the tribunal from continuing with the trial as unconstitutional.
The Federal High Court, FCT High Court and the National Industrial Court at various times in Abuja gave the restraining orders halting the trial of the CJN pending the determination of suits bearing Danladi as defendant.
Aggrieved by the decision of the tribunal, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) also Counsel to Onnoghen, filed an appeal challenging the decision of the tribunal to continue with the trial.
Aboki held that the appellate court had no definitive order to make in the present circumstance and therefore went ahead to fix Jan. 24 to hear the merit of the appeal.
At the resumed session, Olanipekun had submitted that the tribunal was wrong to have discountenanced the restraining orders made by the three courts.
He said such action was capable of enthe throning anarchy in the system if not checked.
Olanipekun, who cited many legal precedents to support his argument, said it was incumbent on the tribunal to respect the order of the court and its practice direction.
He said the insistence of the tribunal to force the arraignment of the CJN when a motion challenging its jurisdiction was unknown to law.
Olanipekun also informed the court that three suits had been filed against the President Muhammadu Buhari, CCT, CCB, AGF and the chairman of the tribunal on matters that related to the trial of the CJN at the tribunal.
He said it was only just and fair for the tribunal to abide by the restraining orders in the trial of the CJN pending the determination of those suits.
Olanipekun therefore, prayed the court to stay proceedings at the tribunal pending the determination of all pending motions the defendants had brought before the appellate court.
Mr Oyekole Oso, Counsel for the Federal Government, raised objections on the issues canvassed by Olanipekun.
He said the orders made at three high courts were not binding on the tribunal, adding that the tribunal also had co-ordinate powers as those courts.
Oso said the applicant had not sufficiently demonstrated the willingness to submit himself for trial.
According to him, the interlocutory applications before the appeal would not stop the prosecution of the CJN at the tribunal.
Oso said the motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal must be first heard at the tribunal, adding that the court should impress it on the applicant to stand justice at the tribunal.
He prayed the court to dismiss the application for lacking in merit.(NAN)