More trouble for Onnoghen as EFCC drafts charge for fresh trial

•NJC panel to meet Kogi gov, CJ today

Another round of legal troubles is appearing in the horizon for the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is getting set to charge him to court for alleged financial infractions.

This was as Nigerian Tribune exclusively obtained how the five-man probe panel set up by the National Judicial Council (NJC) to determine the fate of Onnoghen voted.

Nigerian Tribune was informed that a charge had been filed against him and could be arraigned anytime soon.

A source close to Onnoghen said he was aware of the next move of the Federal Government and well prepared ahead of the trial.

The emergency leadership of Justice Umaru Abdullahi had set up a five-man panel headed by a retired justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sunday Akintan, to investigate the allegations of impropriety brought against Onnoghen by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the wake of his travails over alleged false declaration of assets.

The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) convicted him of the charge last Thursday, recommending his removal from office and banishment from public office for 10 years.

The tribunal also ruled he should forfeit the outstanding deposits in his five bank accounts to the Federal Government.

The five accounts reportedly housed a total of N46.4 million.

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With Onnoghen insisting during the tribunal trial that only the NJC could sanction him, being a judicial officer, EFCC tabled a petition against him, detailing alleged financial infractions and alleged wealth acquisition beyond reasonable earnings.

He also refused quitting as the CJN, despite the suspension from office by President Muhammadu Buhari, saying only the council could exact such power over him.

Abdullahi, a retired president of the Court of Appeal, had taken over the mantle of leadership of the council following the decision to excuse the acting CJN, Mohammed Ibrahim Tanko, from proceedings as the petition against him, by Olisa Agbakoba, a senior advocate, was also considered alongside Onnoghen’s case.

Nigerian Tribune can reveal that, contrary to the impression that the council probe panel unanimously advised Buhari to compulsorily retire Onnoghen “in the interest of the judiciary”, two members of the panel voted “not guilty” for Onnoghen, two voted “guilty” and a member abstained from voting.

When the split decision was delivered to Abdullahi-led council, the guilty verdict was conditionally adopted, with the president being encouraged to retire him with full benefits and retention of all due statutory and constitutional.

Onnoghen sent in a voluntary retirement notice to the president immediately news of the council’s position got to him.

The council also showed that it was moving beyond the Onnoghen conundrum by removing his name as its chairman and plugging Tanko in as the acting chairman, on its official website.

However, there are indications that the crisis of Onnoghen’s removal may not be abating anytime soon, with the reported likely rejection of his voluntary retirement notice by the president.

It was learnt that Buhari was more in support of Onnoghen’s legal troubles running the full circle in order not to be seen as being in a hurry to harrying him out of service for political purposes, as being currently speculated.

Onnoghen had earlier rejected a political solution packaged by three lawyers, all senior advocate.

Onnoghen was to walk away a free man, without prosecution, but with the baggage of all the accusations brought against him, which turned out to be inaccurate in the course of his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

A source close to Onnoghen disclosed that he essentially rejected the offer, to clear his name in the course of the trial.

With the reported rejection of his voluntary retirement by the president, Onnoghen, as things currently stand, stands removed from office until either the Court of Appeal, where he had taken his case to, or the Supreme Court reverses the decision of the Danladi Umar-led tribunal.

He has five pending appeals at the Court of Appeal and another appeal before his colleagues at the apex court.

All the appeals were adjourned for ruling but none was given till he was removed by the Tribunal.

In another development, the crisis of confidence between the Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello and the state Chief Judge, Nasir Ajana, is receiving serious attention from the NJC.

Today, a panel set up by the council to mediate in the crisis, will meet separately with the duo in Lokoja.

The trouble-shooting expedition will likely last two days.

The peace panel has council members on it, including a top administrative staff member.

At the prompting of Bello, the state House of Assembly recommended the removal of Ajana from office.

The decision, however, would have to receive the blessing of NJC before becoming effective.

The governor’s request is said to have been tabled before the council.

Instead of sitting on the request and taking a position, the council, now firmly under the leadership of the acting CJN, decided to explore peace options.

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