In an unprecedented move, the Federal Government, has slammed a six-count criminal charge against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, over his alleged refusal to declare his assets.
Aside allegation that he failed to disclose his assets as prescribed by law, FG, in the charge that was filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, equally accused the CJN of operating foreign bank accounts.
The prosecuting agency alleged that contrary to relevant laws regulating conduct of public office holders, the CJN, maintained a domiciliary foreign currencies account that comprised of Dollars Account, Pound Sterling Account and Euro Account. Already, FG has concluded plans to dock the CJN before the Justice Danladi Umar’s led Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, in Abuja, on Monday, even as it has prepared a motion for the tribunal to compel him to vacate his office to concentrate on clearing himself of the criminal allegations against him.
The application dated January 11, was signed by two senior lawyers at the CCB, Musa Ibrahim Usman and Fatima Danjuma Ali. The motion, if granted, will see the replacement of Justice Onnoghen who the first Southerner is to attain the position of the CJN in over 30 years, with the next most senior jurist on the apex court bench, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, who is from the Northern extraction.
Though it is not readily clear if FG’s move against the CJN is part of intrigues precipitating the 2019 general elections, however, Justice Onnoghen had on Tuesday last week, declared the readiness of the judiciary under his leadership, to dispassionately resolve disputes that will arise from the impending elections. Justice Onnoghen, whose appointment suffered unprecedented delay by President Muhammadu Buhari over undisclosed issues, may be the first CJN in the annals of Nigeria to be arraigned for criminal charges by the government.
Meantime, section 291(1) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, provided that a judicial officer appointed to the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal, may retire when he attains the age of 65 years and shall cease to hold office when he attains the age of 70 years.
According to section 292 (1), “A judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances: (a) In the case of (1) Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, President of the National Industrial Court, Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and President Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.
(b) “In any case, other than those to which paragraph (a) of this subsection applies, by the President or, as the case may be, the Governor acting on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council that the judicial officer be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct”.