This question will provoke several negative reactions from my friends, especially those who have judged and convicted Hon Justice Onnoghen, the Chief Justice of Nigeria who is said to have been purportedly suspended two days ago by President Muhammadu Buhari over an allegation of non disclosure of his assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau in his Assets Declaration Form. I promise to write on this issue on the purported offence, his admission of guilt and other sundry issues surrounding this issue some days ago. In two of my previous articles on this issue I have received several interrogations from my friends who argued that the learned CJN is guilty as charged since he had admitted in writing that he did not disclose his assets to the Bureau. Be patient to read this article, I will be brief as much as possible and I will use everyday language so that I will communicate my thoughts resoundingly well to all to both learned and educated. Thanks in advance for your patience and effort to read this short story.
Hon Justice Onnoghen opened a domiciliary account with Standard Chartered Bank in 2011. He was supposed to declare it sometime in 2012 but he did not. However in 2016, without prompting he declared this Account to the Bureau. About a year ago, Hon Justice Onnoghen was made the Chief Justice of Nigeria after all the necessary clearances by all the intelligence community including DSS. He has been the Chief Justice of Nigeria till this issue of the omission of 2012 became an issue.
The report had it that on the 9th of January, the Conduct of Conduct Bureau received a petition from an NGO headed by one Dennis Aghanye. On the 10th of January, 2019, Hon Justice Onnoghen was invited or visited by the Conduct of Conduct Bureau operatives and confronted with the petition which has the allegation that he, the Chief Justice of Nigeria did not disclose the Account he opened in 2011 in his Assets Declaration Form of 2012. It is alleged that he answered yes, and went further to explain that he declared it later and for the first time in 2016. It is this admission that enabled the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Attorney General to file charges of non disclosure before the Code of Conduct Tribunal with an application for the CJN to resign from office. The application for resignation from office for an accused person in any criminal or quasi criminal trial as in this case is novel and unprecedented and for the said application to be made ex parte , and ex parte order emanating thereon is the strangest ever in the history of criminal jurisprudence in the whole world!
IS THE ADMISSION OF HON JUSTICE ONNOGHEN OF 2012 AN OFFENSE UNDER THE CODE OF CONDUCT BUREAU ACT, CAP C15, LAWS OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA 2004?
After the admission of 10th of January, 2019, charges were filed before the Tribunal on the 11th of January, 2019 and his arraignment was scheduled for 14th of January, 2019.
The Act, specifically Section 3 provides for the functions of the Code of Conduct Bureau, and listing out their functions part of which is to refer persons who commit a breach of the Act to the Code of Conduct Tribunal but with a proviso:
“PROVIDED THAT WHERE THE PERSON CONCERNED MAKES A WRITTEN ADMISSION OF SUCH BREACH OR NON-COMPLIANCE, NO REFERENCE TO THE TRIBUNAL SHALL BE NECESSARY”.
What this means is that when a petition is received by the Bureau against a Public Officer for breach or non-compliance with the Code of Conduct Bureau Act, the Bureau where it considers it necessary to do so, shall refer such complaints to the Code of Conduct Tribunal, provided that where ” THE DEFENDANT ADMITS IN WRITING OF SUCH BREACH OR NON-COMPLIANCE, NO REFERENCE TO THE TRIBUNAL SHALL BE NECESSARY”. Remember that the word used is SHALL which we know in law is mandatory and cannot be interpreted as permissive in any context.
CAN THERE BE ANY CHARGE OF NON DISCLOSURE PROPERLY SO CALLED BEFORE THE CODE OF CONDUCT TRIBUNAL?
Where as in this case the CJN has admitted and not lied about the omission of 2012 and had even disclosed it in 2016, and i am sure he must have disclosed it when he was made the CJN last year, then going by the provision of the Act, it was wrong and patently wrong for this issue of non disclosure of assets which he had admitted subsequently, to become a charge to be filed before the Code of Conduct Tribunal by the Attorney General. It is a different ball game if he had lied about those assets which would have precipitated a charge against him for breach or non compliance with the Act.
Having these facts as herein propounded and which remains un-contradicted, would it be right for the Bureau or the AG of the Federation to have referred this matter straight to the Code of Conduct Tribunal? My humble view on facts, law and logic is that the Bureau and the AG of the Federation erred in law to have taken this legal step of taking the CJN straight to the Tribunal. More troubling is the step of filing applications whether ex parte or on notice seeking the CJN to step aside when the trial has not been concluded assuming that the charge is proper before the Tribunal. Please refer to my earlier article on the TEN QUESTIONS that were elicited from the ex parte ruling upon which the President acted to “suspend” the CJN. May I also humbly refresh your mind on my second article on the so called ex parte order on which the president acted , which never directed the President to “suspend” the CJN, rather the order directed the CJN to step aside pending the determination of the motion on notice. The said order was never served on the CJN to know whether he will comply or not, the next we heard was that the president has suspended him and swore in an Acting CJN in due compliance with the second order which can only become operational on due compliance with the first order . Note, the first order was directed to the CJN and not to the president.
CAN HON JUSTICE ONNOGHEN BE INVESTIGATED FOR ACQUISITION OF ILLICIT WEALTH, ACTS OF CORRUPTION OR MONEY LAUNDERING ?
If, I use the word if advisedly, the Federal Government stumbles on illicit wealth or proceeds of crime domiciled with the CJN, the government is permitted under the law to carry out a comprehensive investigation on the man and prosecute him appropriately and in accordance with the law if he is culpable. We have heard on the social media that about 1.1billion naira traced to the account of the CJN and that he has 58 houses in choice areas. These are mere allegations which the CJN must be made to respond to, through a proper investigation initiated by the appropriate security agency empowered to so investigate. If he is culpable, the appropriate procedural channels must be complied with and if these allegations are proved, the CJN must be removed in accordance with the constitution of 1999 as amended. No one is above the law, but the proper constitutional procedures must be strictly adhered to by all the parties concerned in dealing with the CJN. For the umpteenth time, let me EMPHASIZE THAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THE HEAD OF A THIRD ARM OF GOVERNMENT CREATED BY THE CONSTITUTION OF NIGERIA! YOU CANNOT SUSPEND OR REMOVE HIM IN DISOBEDIENCE TO THE CONSTITUTION. NEVER!
My last article on this issue is what is the position of the law on resignation from office by a public officer who is accused of any infraction of the law. Wait for it tomorrow.
FRIENDS PLEASE contradict, agree AND OR disapprove my position with facts, law and logic. Avoid sentiment, abuse and name callings to this Discourse. This is my wall please!
By Monday Onyekachi Ubani, Esq, (MOU),