THE suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, resigned from office on Thursday.
His resignation came less than 48 hours after the National Judicial Council (NJC) recommended his compulsory retirement.
His resignation, it was learnt, was aimed at pre-empting the action that President Muhammadu Buhari would take on the report of the NJC.
It was gathered that at the time the embattled CJN tendered his resignation, President Buhari was still seeking legal advice on whether to retire him or subject him to full trial on the allegations
Onnoghen, however, decided to beat the President to it in order that he might remain on the honours roll of past Chief Justices of Nigeria and also enjoy the full benefits accruing to the office.
Explaining why Onnoghen resigned his appointment in a telephone conversation with one of our correspondents yesterday, counsel to the suspended CJN, Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, said he acted in the interest of the judiciary.
Awomolo, who confirmed that Onnoghen resigned on Thursday, said: “I have just spoken with him. He confirmed to me that he resigned yesterday. He said he resigned in the interest of the Judiciary.”
Awomolo is the lead defence lawyer in Onnoghen’s trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on charges of non-declaration of asset.
Another Senior Advocate in Onnoghen’s defence team, who sought anonymity, also confirmed that the suspended CJN put in his resignation letter on Thursday, saying that he addressed it to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Another top source in the Supreme Court said the suspended CJN resigned on Thursday evening following a fait accompli decision taken by the NJC.
The source said: “The CJN was shocked at the decision of the NJC, so he offered to resign instead of being thrown out through compulsory retirement.
“I think he chose resignation because it is a better option than a compulsory retirement, which implies some indictment. “The truth is that if a public or a judicial officer is compulsorily retired, he is not entitled to some benefits
“Technically, compulsory retirement has some stigma attached to it while resignation would allow the CJN to get full complement of his entitlements, including a N2.5 billion package.
“One of the official perks enjoyed by past Chief Justices of Nigeria is a retirement home worth about N2 billion, provided by the NJC.”
Another source, who confirmed the resignation of the CJN said: “I believe Onnoghen opted for resignation because President Buhari can either accept or reject his retirement.
“And do not forget that if the President accepts Onnoghen’s compulsory retirement, he has to subject it to a two-thirds consent of the Senate in line with Section 292 of the 1999 Constitution.
“The alternative is to allow the process to drag in the Senate and the fate of Onnoghen will hang in the balance. “Definitely, the Buhari administration will not send its decision to the 8th Senate; it will only leave it for the 9th Senate to decide in June.”
But a judicial officer who is conversant with the case said: “Onnoghen’s resignation is an afterthought, because he was given the same window when a delegation of the NBA met with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on his fate.
“It was decided at the meeting that some senior members of the bar should sell the resignation idea to him. Unfortunately, some lawyers persuaded him not to resign without knowing that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has more dossiers on him.
“Going by precedent, NJC decision has more pre-eminence before President Buhari than an emergency resignation.
“Now, the President has two letters on his table including the one from the NJC and the other, which is a subterfuge ploy, from Onnoghen.”
But the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) and the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) yesterday demanded tough sanctions against the embattled former CJN.
In a statement signed by Niyi Akinsiju and Cassidy Madueke, its Coordinator and Secretary respectively, the BMO said the failure of Justice Onnoghen to declare his assets and thus breaching the Code of Conduct expected from judicial officers, among several other malfeasances and breach of the Money Laundering Act, are too grave to be treated with kids gloves.
It noted that the offences that are being prosecuted and that have been petitioned against Justice Onnoghen have tainted the sanctity of the judiciary and are not matters to be played with or treated with levity.
“Justice Walter Onnoghen is alleged to have outrightly failed to declare some of his assets. In fact, he declared only salary accounts but failed to declare accounts where he had funds that were far above his legitimate earnings as a public officer.
“There is also no evidence that he ever declared his assets since his appointment as a judicial officer from 1989 up until 2016. This is an outright THE NATION ISATURDAY I APRIL 6 I 20192 •Continued on breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers under the 1999 Constitution, and is the least expected from a man who sat at the pinnacle of Nigeria’s judiciary, and should ordinarily be the one to mete out punishments to others who commit such breaches.
“The ‘Chief Justice of Nigeria’ is also alleged to have had money that he could not reasonably explain the source, but which were lodged in various accounts operated by him. He had over $1.7 million in his dollar accounts, which he conspicuously never declared.”
According to the group, the alleged receipt by the Justice Onnoghen of pecuniary gifts from various lawyers who had cases in his court breached the Rules of Judicial Conduct which outrightly prohibits judges from receiving pecuniary gifts from lawyers who had cases before them.
“Justice Onnoghen received several gifts, ranging from a luxury car worth N7 million to a deposit of $30,000 from