Facts have emerged on Saturday on why the federal government instructed the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen to vacate office in preparation for the commencement of his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on Monday.
Findings by TNG showed that the pending trial against the CJN before the Justice Danladi Yakubu Umar led CCT was instigated by a petition filed by a group, Anti-corruption and Research based Data Initiative (ARDI) and partners on January 7 to the Chairman, Code of Conduct Bureau, Federal Secretariat, Abuja and was received on January 9.
Further findings by TNG revealed that Danladi Agbanya who serves as the Executive Secretary of ARDI was a former media aide to President Muhammadu Buhari. He was also the National Publicity Secretary of the then Congress for Progressive Change (CPC); a political party founded in 2009 to pursue Buhari’s presidential bid in 2011. The party later merged with the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and three others to form the All Progressives Change (APC) which brought in Buhari as president in 2015.
Based on the petition, the federal government on January 10 filed charges against the CJN, accusing him of asset declaration offences.
The government said it was only in 2016 after the controversial crackdown on judges that Onnoghen partially declared his asset, but still failed to declare a series of bank accounts, denominated in local and foreign currencies, linked to him at a Standard Chartered Bank branch in Abuja.
The government consequently filed six charges of non and fraudulent declaration of assets by Onnoghen, with trial expected to commence on January 14 at the CCT.
Meanwhile, the CCT said in a separate statement Saturday afternoon that trial would commence on Monday at the premises of the Federal Capital Territory High Court in Jabi, commercial neighbourhood in Abuja.
If the trial comes through, this could further strain relations between the judicial and the executive arms of the federal government, which had been largely tense since the raid on federal judges’s homes in October 2016.
Recall that two judges of the Supreme Court were amongst those whose houses were raided. They were charged for corruption, but none of them has been found guilty of wrongdoing.
A source declared on Saturday that scores of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, led by a prominent activist, are already in Abuja to defend Onmoghen before the tribunal.
The source said: “This is a clear case of persecution. We don’t know why they are coming up with this but we strongly believe the government does not want Justice Onnoghen to be in office during and after the presidential election. The government will fail this time around”.
However, TNG gathered that by virtue of the judgment of the Court of Appeal in respect of the case of Justice of Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and in fact, any serving judicial officer judge, cannot be tried by the Code of Conduct tribunal or even court, until the National Judicial Council, NJC would have dealth with the matter.
Though, the matter is still on appeal at the Supreme court, the judgment still stands.
As a matter of fact, based on that judgment, the Code of Conduct Tribunal had to discontinue the trial of Supreme court justice, Sylvester Ngwuta who was facing trial on alleged false declaration of assets.
Similarly, the Federal High court had struck out money laundering charges against the Supreme court justice based on this judgment. Same thing in respect of Justice Ajumogobia.