Saturday, 6 April 2019

More Revelations Emerge As To How CJN Walter Onnoghen Resigned

More information has emerged as to how former Chief Justice of Nigeria ,Walter Onnoghen resigned just as some senior lawyers have reacted to the resignation saying it is a step he should have taken long ago.

The suspended CJN finally bowed to pressure and tendered his resignation as the number one judicial officer in the country two days ago.

Onnoghen conveyed his decision to quit office through a resignation letter he sent to President Muhammadu Buhari two days ago.

This came after Onnoghen’s  three-month battle at both at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and at the regular courts following allegations of asset declaration violations and subsequent suspension from office.

Onnoghen’s lawyer said, “Yes, he resigned yesterday. I have just spoken with him. He confirmed to me that he resigned voluntarily yesterday (Thursday).”

Onnoghen had reportedly sent his resignation letter to President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday barely 24 hours after the National Judicial Council (NJC) finished investigating him for various allegations of misconduct and transmitted its recommendations to the president.

The NJC had forwarded its report on the petition against Justice Onnoghen by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to President Muhammadu Buhari to act upon.

The council, however, declined to make their findings and recommendations public.

It is not known whether the embattled top jurist took the resignation step to pre-empt the president’s response to the NJC’s recommendation.

At the Supreme Court yesterday, the apex court could not confirm the reports of the resignation of Justice Onnoghen.

The chief registrar and the director of  information in the apex court, Dr Festus Akande, said the report could not yet be confirmed at the time of filing this report.

Similarly, presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, said in a television interview monitored yesterday in Abuja that he could not confirm if President Buhari was aware of the embattled CJN’s resignation.

“Is the president aware, I can’t say yet,” he said during a television interview yesterday.

Adesina stated that he also read a report by Justice Onnoghen’s lawyer confirming that Onnoghen had turned in his resignation, adding that he was yet to get a briefing on the matter from Mr President.

According to him, he had met with his principal earlier yesterday but that Onnoghen’s resignation did not come up as a topic for discussion.

Speaking on whether the president got the recommendation from the NJC, Adesina said: “It is a judicial matter, and the Attorney General is the legal officer of the country, he will be privy to it.”

However, an Abuja-based lawyer, Barrister Enyi Chukwu, believes that Onnoghen’s resignation was long overdue.

According to him, the evidence against him were overwhelming and he would have honourably resigned rather than allow the development to get out of control.

‘’His resignation is long overdue. The evidence against him is overwhelming and there is no way he could have wiggled out of it if the case at the Code of Conduct is allowed to get to a logical conclusion.

“In as much as I commend his decision to bow to pressure by tendering his resignation, I am calling for actions that will fish out bad eggs in the judiciary,” Chukwu said.

A senior advocate, Mr. Ahmed Raji, told LEADERSHIP Weekend yesterday that Onnoghen’s resignation was a welcome  development as it would save the image of the Judiciary and indeed the whole country.

He said, ‘’While I commend the former CJN for the bold decision,  I most sincerely plead with the president to accept the resignation in the interest of all.

‘’My humble appeal also goes to the amiable vice president in this regard being highest political office holder with a sound legal mind. All pending cases before any court or tribunal in connection with the ex-CJN should abate as well.’’

But a United States-based lawyer, Mr Emmanuel Ogebe, described the development as a travesty of the highest order and a consolidation of the ethnic cleansing agenda of a the Nigerian government.

According to him, Onnoghen was never wanted from the beginning.

‘’It was obvious and they have been working ab initio to remove him. He was from the wrong region and religion and that was his cardinal offense for which a 40-year career is being destroyed by people with lesser degree and pedigree.”

‘’Nigeria has lost its bearing under this regime and heading towards pariah status globally. In addition, the fallacy of one Nigeria has been exposed. May the soul of the rule of law in Nigeria rest in peace,’’ he said.

Real reasons why Onnoghen resigned, by Awomolo

Justice Onnoghen’s lawyer Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) has explained why his client took the step to resign from office..

Awomolo, while confirming the development on Thursday, said Onnoghen acted in the interest of the judiciary.

The lawyer said: “I have just spoken with him. He said he resigned in the interest of the Judiciary.”

Onnoghen Is Entitled To Full Retirement Benefits – Lawyers

Meanwhile, some lawyers have posited that Onnoghen’s  resignation as CJN would not negatively affect his entitlement to full retirement benefits as recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) to President Muhammadu Buhari.

They said the difference between resignation and retirement is that, for resignation, it will go into the record book that Justice Onnoghen left office voluntarily and on a clean slate, but if it was compulsory retirement, it would connote that he was forced out of office following an indictment.

They further said that Justice Onnoghen’s resignation could still be converted to compulsory retirement if that was the punishment recommended by the NJC based on the EFCC petition against him.

Barr Muktar Abanika said: “Justice Onnoghen’s resignation may not stand depending on the position of Mr President. If President Buhari feels strongly that he should be punished for the offences committed, he would uphold NJC’s recommendation.”

On his part, Barrister Valentine Offia said that whether Justice Onnoghen leaves office by compulsory retirement or by resignation, he would still be entitled to his full terminal benefits.

‘’But with compulsory retirement, his record of service is dented; he remains a judicial officer who was forced out of office for committing an infraction while in office,’’  he said.

It will be recalled that after NJC commenced investigating former chief judge of the FCT High Court, Abuja, Justice Lawal Gumi, he resigned and was turbaned to replace the former Emir of Gunmi, Alhaji Aliyu Abara, who died on May 7, 2013.

This notwithstanding, the NJC went ahead to indict him for interfering in a judgement in favour of the current Zamfara State governor, Abdul’Aziz Yari, describing his actions  as “most unethical and highly reprehensible.”

After his retirement, Mr. Gumi approached an FCT High Court and sought to restrain the NJC from probing him on allegations of misconduct while in office.

In its petition, the company accused the judge of bias in halting an order of the court directing it to take possession of a property in Asokoro belonging to Abubakar Yari, the governor of Zamfara State.

The NJC said that it found Gumi, the Emir of Gunmi in Zamfara State, guilty in interfering with the execution of the judgment delivered by Justice Jude Okeke of the FCT High Court.

The NJC, however, took cognizance of the fact that Justice Gumi had already voluntarily retired from service and consequently decided not to recommend his removal from office.

The council, however,  warned that, henceforth, similar misconduct by any judicial officer will be met with severe sanctions.

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