Willy Eya, Romanus Ugwu, Godwin Tsa and Ndubuisi Orji
YESTERDAY, it was a mixed bag of anger, disquiet and feeling of vindication over the resignation of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen.
Saturday Sun gathered that even though the letter was on Thursday submitted to the Chief of Staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari, by some Justices of the apex court, the presidency on Friday was yet to confirm the receipt of the letter 24 hours after the speculation went viral.
It was learnt that the affected Justices arrived at the presidential villa few minutes after President Muhammadu Buhari left Abuja for Jordan to participate in the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Thursday.
Our sister publication, Daily Sun, had earlier published that a tough outcome of the probe panel constituted by the NJC awaited the embattled CJN.
A presidency source confirmed to Saturday Sun that President Buhari had, be- fore his departure, received the National Judicial Council’s recommendations on the petitions written against Onnoghen and the acting CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad. The report was submitted to the president by his Chief of Staff, Mal- lam Abba Kyari, who was accompanied by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, at about 2:20 p.m on the day.
The Director, Information, NJC, Mr Soji Oye, had on Wednesday in a statement, confirmed that the council had sent its report to President Buhari after the conclusion of its investigation into the petitions against Onnoghen and the acting CJN.
All efforts to speak to presidential spokesmen, Mr Femi Adesina and Mallam Garba Shehu, on the matter proved abortive as the duo were outside the country on official and private engagements. Adesina is currently on President Buhari’s entourage to Jordan while Shehu is in Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage.
Onnoghen who was born on the Dec. 22, 1950 at Okurike Town, Biase Local Government Area of Cross Rivers began his primary school education at the Presbyterian Primary School, Okurike Town between 1959 and 1965.
Before his appointment as the Chief Justice of the Federation, he worked with the Ministry of Justice, Ikeja, Lagos, between 1978 and 1979, as the Pupil State Counsel.
Between 1989 – 1998, he was a High Court Judge of Cross River State Judiciary. During his time as the High Court Judge of Cross River, he was made the Chairman of Cross River State Armed Robbery and Fire Arms Tribunal and he held the post for three years from 1990 – 1993.
In 2007, Justice Onnoghen played a huge role in 2007 election which saw the late Umaru Yar’Adua emerging as President of Nigeria. He had a dissenting judgment that indeed annulled the presidential election. His position was however a minority judgment.
After being nominated as the CJN by the then Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, he was confirmed by the Senate on March 1, 2017, and sworn in on March 7. Onnoghen’s trials for false assets declaration started when a petition was filed by the civil rights group at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), alleging that he owned sundry accounts.
It alleged the accounts were primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself up to as recently as August 10, 2016, which appeared to have been run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials.
The trial began on Jan. 14 at Code of Conduct Tribunal but Onnoghen was absent.
Also on Wednesday, the National Judicial Council abstained from considering al- legations relating to the assets declaration that were levelled against Onnoghen. On Feb. 11, the council set up a preliminary complaints assessment committee to review the responses given to it by Onnoghen, and Muhammad who is acting in his stead. Onnoghen is accused of fail- ing to fully declare his assets, while Muhammad is facing allegations of misconduct.
The NJC said it reconvened and resolved to constitute into the Preliminary Complaints Assessment Committee in accordance with Regulation 17 of the National Judicial Council Judicial Discipline Regulations, 2017.
Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has said that the resignation of Onnoghen, has vindicated the action of President Muhammadu Buhari, adding that events have proven the party and some Nigerians who believe Nigeria first, right. National Publicity Sec- retary of the party, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, who made the comment while reacting to the report of his resignation, said that the allegations against the immediate past CJN were too serious, adding that the President does not act on frivolities.
“The issue we have in this country is that, many people, especially those who have been part of the impunity of the past, struggling badly to adjust to the reality of rule of law are the major issues we are facing in this country. There is so much struggle to allow the past that is not good enough for us as a country to go and for all of us to rise and face the future, future of promise, future of change, so that we can move to the Next Level”, he said.
In its response, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was mum,yesterday, over the sudden resignation of the em- battled CJN). When Saturday Sun sought the reaction of the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, on the development, the opposition spokesman said he would get back to our correspondent.
However, subsequent calls to his mobile line were not answered. Recall that the PDP had in January kicked against the suspension of Justice Onnoghen as CJN by President Buhari and had noted that the suspension was an attempt by the President to annex the judiciary. Chair- man, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof Itse Sagay regretted that Onnoghen waited until it was too late before resigning.
His words: “He should have left with his honour and dignity as soon as those charges were brought against him. He should have left honourably but fighting the government, what I call a dirty fight of filing the same case in so many courts, including industrial courts, labour courts, he brought himself down to a very low level. So, it is too late and he is not going with the dignity he could have gone with when this matter came up.”
For Chief Mike Ahamba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), “the whole episode was very unfortunate.”
Another senior lawyer and former President of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike said the resignation was like a thunderbolt. He said Onnoghen had been humiliated in the worst way possible for a judge in the country since 1984 when Chief Justice of Nigeria, Sowemimo was removed from office by the then Military Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari.
“As a lawyer, I weep for the other members of the judiciary who did not under- stand that a new benchmark has been set for whipping any independent and courageous judge into line. Truly, the fulcrum of democracy has been damaged. Whether the 3rd arm of the government, the judiciary, shall recover is a matter of conjecture. But one thing is certain, our judiciary will not be respected all over the world and in Nigeria”, he said.