CCT Chairman Umar Danladi and Ex-CJN Walter Onnoghen
By Clement A. Oloyede
The embattled Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen.
The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has convicted suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, accused of false and non-declaration of assets.
The tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, while giving judgement in the case on Thursday, held that the prosecution had proven the case beyond reasonable doubt.
Umar held that Onnoghen is convicted as follows:
Removed from office as CJN and Chairman of NJC
Banned from holding office for the period of 10 years
The money in the 5 accounts that the defendant has failed to declare be confiscated, seized and forfeited to the FGN as it is proven that the money was gotten illegally and the defendant has not provided any evidence of how he got them.
Before his punishments were read to him, the tribunal gave opportunity for allocutus.
However, counsel to Onnoghen, Okon Efut (SAN), said the defence had nothing to say.
When tribunal asked Onnoghen if he has anything to say, he said “My Lord, I don’t”.
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WITH the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC), the coast seems clear for Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad to mount the saddle as CJN.
President Muhammadu Buhari is likely to accept the NJC’s recommendation that Justice Muhammad should be CJN, The Nation learnt yesterday.
But Buhari is said to be weighing whether or not to accept the NJC’s recommendations on the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria ( CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen.
Buhari, who had a meeting with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on the issue before flying out to Jordan yesterday, is also said to be seeking legal opinions on the NJC’s decisions.
The NJC absolved Justice Muhammad of any blame in deferring to the President to be sworn in as the Acting CJN.
He accepted the appointment, having been presented with an ex parte order of the CCT, which led to Justice Onnoghen’s suspension.
The Nation learnt that after receiving the NJC’s recommendations, the President elected to seek legal advice on them.
A top government official, who pleaded not to be named because he was not permitted to talk on the matter, said the President was considering:
whether or not NJC’s conclusions on findings on Onnoghen did not amount to indictment;
if he should accept NJC’s soft-landing decision to retire Justice Onnoghen with full benefits;
Onnoghen’s retirement without benefits; and
whether the law should run its full course, including the conclusion of Onnoghen’s trial by the Code of Conduct Tribunal and a fresh trial by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Buhari is also believed to be thinking of asking NJC to recommend deterrence for Onnoghen or seeking further consultations with the council.
The President is also said to be planning to seek advice on whether the input of the Senate necessary in retiring Onnoghen?
The source said: “Since he received the NJC’s recommendations, the President has been thinking of how to manage the situation without rubbishing the anti-corruption agenda of his administration. He has the right to accept or reject the council’s recommendations on Onnoghen.
“The President is already seeking legal opinion on legal issues surrounding the NJC’s decisions. He does not want to set a bad precedent in tackling this Onnoghengate”.
The source confirmed that the President met with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. He believed Onnoghen’s case and other matters were discussed.
Responding to a question, the source said: “What NJC decided was a kind of soft-landing for Onnoghen with moral and legal implications.
“Apart from stepping down, there are concerns about what Onnoghen is really offering as deterrent. Some are saying why can’t the law run its full course?
“Others are pressurising the government to take advantage of the window created by the NJC to rebuild the ties between the Executive and the Judiciary as a result of Onnoghen’s travails.”
It was unclear whether or not the President would need the consent of the Senate to retire Onnoghen.
“This is part of the legal opinion being sought by the President,” a presidency source said, pleading not to be named.
Section 231 of the 1999 Constitution says: “(1)The appointment of a person to the office of Chef Justice of Nigeria shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.
“(2) The appointment of a person to the office of a Justice of the Supreme Court shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.
“(3) A person shall not be qualified to hold the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria or of a Justice of the Supreme Court, unless he is qualified to practise as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period of not less than fifteen years.
“(4) If the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office,’ then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the President shall point the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court to perform those functions.
“(5) Except on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, appointment, pursuant to the provisions of subsection (4) of section shall cease to have effect after the expiration of three months from the date of such appointment, and the President shall not reappoint a person whose appointment has lapsed.”
Part 1 of the Third Schedule to 1999 Constitution says: “The National Judicial Council shall have power to:
(b) recommend to the President the removal from office of the judicial officers specified in sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph, and to exercise disciplinary control over such office’s;
(c) recommend to the Governors from among the list of persons submitted to it by the State Judicial Service Commissions persons for appointments to the offices of the Chief Judges of the States and Judges of the High courts of the states, the Grand Kadis and Kadis of the sharia Courts of Appeal of the States and Presidents and Judges of the Customary Courts of Appeal of the States;
(d) recommend to the governors the removal from office of the judicial officers specified in sub-paragraph (c) of this paragraph, and to exercise disciplinary control over such officers;
(e) collect, control and disburse all moneys, capital and recurrent, for the judiciary;
(f) advise the President and governors or any matter pertaining to the judiciary as may be referred to the Council by the President or the covernors;
(g) appoint, dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over member and staff of the Council;
(h) control and disburse all monies, capital and recurrent. for the services of the Council; and
(i) deal with all other matters relating to broad issues of policy and administration.
Meanwhile, the NJC has recommended the confirmation of Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad as the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Another source said: “The council actually did not find him culpable of infractions. He actually did not even want to be inaugurated as the Acting CJN until there was evidence of an ex-parte order from the CCT on Justice Onnoghen’s suspension.
“As the next in-command, the NJC said he should take over from the CJN.”
When contacted, a source in NJC said: “In line with Section 26 of the Judicial Discipline Regulations of 2017, the council has reached out to all those affected by its decisions.
Section 26 says: “The decision taken in regulation 25 of these Regulations shall be notified to the following persons: (a)The subject of the decision; (b)The Complainant and (c) The relevant Head of Court
“Upon a request made to the Council, the decision may be notified to any other person. The grant or refusal of such request is in the absolute discretion of the Council.”. (The Nation)
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The nation may be plunged into a constitutional crisis in about three weeks as the tenure of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammad Tanko, comes to an end, SUNDAY PUNCH has learnt.
Muhammad was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 25, 2019 following an order by the Code of Conduct Tribunal that the substantive CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, be suspended and the next in line of seniority, be sworn in.
However, the constitution states that the President cannot re-appoint an acting CJN unless on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council.
Section 231(4) and (5) states, “If the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding has resumed those functions, the President shall appoint the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court to perform those functions.
“Except on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, an appointment pursuant to the provisions of subsection (4) of this section shall cease to have effect after the expiration of three months from the date of such appointment, and the President shall not re-appointment a person whose appointment has lapsed.”
Onnoghen and Muhammad are facing a probe by the NJC, the body responsible for the discipline and appointment of judges.
While Onnoghen was given a query by the NJC to respond to allegations on why he failed to declare some of his assets as required by law, the acting CJN was asked to respond to a query on why he allowed himself to be sworn in by Buhari without the recommendation of the NJC as stipulated by the constitution.
Onnoghen has challenged his suspension before the Court of Appeal but the appellate court has withheld judgment for unknown reasons while the case before the CCT has been given an accelerated hearing.
Buhari will only be able to extend Justice Muhammad’s tenure if the NJC sends his name to the President for confirmation.
The President will subsequently be expected to send his name to the Senate for confirmation.
However, the current Senate, led by Senate President Bukola Saraki, has been at loggerheads with the executive branch.
The upper chamber of the National Assembly harshly criticised Buhari for suspending Onnoghen and had even threatened to drag the executive arm of government to the Supreme Court.
Reliable sources in the Presidency feared that if Buhari nominates Muhammad as the CJN to the Senate, the current set of lawmakers would likely reject his nomination.
The current Senate will expire in June, and Saraki, who lost re-election, will not be part of the 9th Senate.
Speaking with our correspondent on Saturday, however, Chief Robert Clarke (SAN) said it was too early to speculate as the NJC still had three weeks.
Clarke said the constitution is clear that the appointment of judges should be on the basis of seniority and since Onnoghen remained under suspension, the NJC would have to extend the tenure of Justice Muhammad, who is also being probed by the council.
He said, “The Constitution will not allow a vacuum in any instance. It says the most senior judge will take over as acting CJN. After three months, the NJC can recommend another three months. He has no definitive tenure. It only said if the position is not vacant, the most senior must act.
“The NJC can recommend Tanko (Muhammad) again. I know the NJC will do the right thing. They know more than you and I, they know what to do. The constitution says the most senior. So, the NJC cannot recommend just anyone. Let’s not speculate.”
Also speaking with our correspondent, human rights lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, believed there would be no constitutional crisis because Nigeria always found its way out of such issues.
Ogunye added, “The point is when that time comes, a way would be found. The NJC that is still grappling with the issue of the treatment meted to Onnoghen, which is still considering petitions against him and that of the acting CJN for the fact that he presented himself to be appointed by the President, is that the same NJC that will have time that will be considering what will happen to him in three weeks?” (Punch)
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