By Tunde Oyesina
Except the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, agrees to forfeit his allegedly undeclared assets, running into millions and many houses, the embattled jurist may jeopardise an ongoing deal, aimed at giving him a soft-landing, the Saturday Telegraph has gathered.
The plea bargain-like deal, which had been reported as part of a plan to carefully ease the CJN out of office had set tongues wagging over what becomes of the huge cash in the five accounts he allegedly did not declare. Checks by Saturday Telegraph revealed that despite the ongoing political solutions, the Federal Government is insisting that Onnoghen forfeits all the cash in his undeclared accounts.
An informed source told Saturday Telegraph that the Federal Government is demanding that Onnoghen forfeits the cash in the undeclared accounts if the deal is to sail through. “I can confirm to you that talks are ongoing. The stage as at now is the demand that the Onnoghen should be allowed to retire without prosecution.
“Some people involved in the talks have also raised the issue that the cash in Onnoghen’s accounts should not be seized from him. “And that is where the problem lies. The money in the undeclared accounts is a subject of litigation before the Tribunal. “If the money is left for him, it will then mean that Federal Government is only persecuting Onnoghen for political reasons. “As much as the Federal Government is giving a listening ear, it will not allow Onnoghen to go with the cash, which he himself had admitted that he forgot to declare.
“The government believes Onnoghen cannot go without forfeiting the huge cash and property. That is the challenge at hand”. The CJN is billed to appear at the tribunal on Monday following reconvening of the panel, which earlier adjourned the matter indefinitely. The court had scheduled Monday to resume the trial following a ruling of the Appeal Court, which refused to stay proceedings in the trial.
The ruling was sequel to an application filed by Onnoghen seeking to stop the trial at the tribunal. The Appellate Court had however held that the provisions of ACJA make it difficult to stay proceedings in criminal trial. The business of the tribunal on Monday is for the defence team to move his application challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal. Onnoghen was accused of not declaring five of his domiciliary accounts with the Standard Chattered Bank as slated in a petition to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) by the Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative.
The said petition which was received by the CCB on January 9 is titled: “PETITION ON SUSPECTED FINANCIAL CRIMES AND BREACHES OF THE CODE OF CONDUCT BUREAU REQUIREMENTS AGAINST HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE W. S. NKANU ONNOGHEN”.
The petition reads in part: “We write to bring to your attention serious concerns bothering on flagrant 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 are distressed that facts on the ground indicate the leader of our country’s judicial branch is embroiled in suspected 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 which appear to have been run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials.
“To give specific examples, here are some instances of cash deposits by Justice Onnoghen: Justice Onnoghen made five different cash deposits of $10,000 each on 8th March 2011 into Standard Chartered Bank Account …; “On 7th June 2011, two separate cash deposits of $5000 each were made by Justice Walter Onnoghen, followed by four cash deposits of $10,000 each; “On 27th June 2011, Justice Onnoghen made another set of five separate cash deposits of $10,000 each and made four more cash deposits of $10,000 each on the following day, 28th June 2011; “Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen did not declare his assets immediately after taking office, contrary to Section 15 (1) of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act…”
Following the petition, the Federal Government had filed a six-count charge against Onnoghen before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Asides the charge pending before the tribunal, President Muhammadu Buhari had on January 25, acting on an ex-parte order of the tribunal suspended Onnoghen and consequently sworn-in the next most Senior Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Tanko Muhammad as the acting CJN and Chairman of the NJC. Outrage had however followed the action, a situation, which prompted the NJC to summon an emergency meeting.
After it’s meeting, the council issued separate queries to both Onnoghen and Muhammadu and asked them to respond to it within seven days of receipt. It was reported that a 12- man delegate of the NBA had during the week met with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who is also an SAN. Reports had it that at the end of the meeting, six-point terms of resolution was arrived at to be delivered to Onnoghen. The high point of the resolution, according to the report was to persuade Onnoghen to quit. The report put the terms discussed by NBA at the session as follows:
●CJN to resign or retire without coercion;
●Govt to withdraw all charges against Onnoghen;
●No molestation of CJN under any guise;
●Acting CJN should quit;
●NBA team to prevail on relatives, friends to persuade Justice Onnoghen to resign; and
●Consensus on the need to clean up the Judiciary (long term measure). It was further reported that to be sure that the parties will keep to the terms, it was agreed that as Onnoghen is quitting his job, the government will simultaneously withdraw the charges against the CJN. The five accounts as contained in the charge are as follow:
a. Account No 50010626826 (Euro) b. Account No 5001062679 (Pounds sterling) SCB c.Account No 0001062650 (Dollar) (SCB) d. Account No 0001062667 (Naira) (SCB) e. Account No 5000162693 (Naira). Account balances listed against as follows:
The Standard Chartered Bank dollar account 1062650 with a balance of $391,401.28 on January 31, 2011; The Standard Chartered Bank Euro account 5001062686 with a balance of EURO 49,971 .71 on January 31, 2011; The Standard Chartered Bank pound sterling account 5001062679 with a balance of GBP23,409.66 on February 28, 2011.