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Still on Onnoghen


[FILES] Suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in Abuja…<br />PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA<br />

History is being made, and Nigeria is in uncharted waters. The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen was suspended by President Buhari based on allegations of failure to properly declare assets in line with the law.

Last Thursday, the prosecution closed its case. During its presentation, the prosecutors called three witnesses out of the six they had initially penciled down to testify.

The most important takeaway from the Onnoghen trial thus far is that media trials are very dangerous. Here are some numbers from the prosecution’s case: N12,852,580, N2,656,019, €10,000, £13,730 and $56,878.


The 55 houses allegedly owned by Justice Onnoghen turned out to be five, and one of these houses was given to him by the government, so he actually acquired four properties with his money.

The millions of dollars, and billions of naira that we were told earlier that Justice Onnoghen had in his accounts, turned into millions of naira, and thousands of dollars.

A tenth of what we were told so confidently a few months ago when there was a need to paint give the dog a bad name in order to hang it. The foreign accounts we were told that he operates were actually domiciliary accounts in Nigeria.

Walter Onnoghen’s asset declaration has not been verified by the Code of Conduct Bureau. This confirmation was made by no other person than an ex-director of Code of Conduct Bureau; who worked in the bureau for almost three decades. This was actually the most important revelation from the trial. How do you charge someone based on something that you have not investigated?

This is akin to the police telling the world that Cheta murdered George by stabbing him 60 times, then shooting him, before dismembering him and soaking the body in acid. Then after all the hullabaloo about how Cheta is a wicked person, we get to court, and first there is no body, and then, to make matters worse, during the trial, George walks in.


Now, Onnoghen’s defence has entered a no-case submission, meaning that the prosecution has proved nothing. The panel of judges can either agree with the defence, or insist that the defence should present something.

But here is the thing — if his assets declaration form was not verified, as per the government’s second witness, then on what basis was the man accused of falsely declaring assets? If you did not verify the assets he declared, then what are we doing in court?

Why did you lie to all that he had “millions of dollars” in his accounts, only to get to court and be unable to show this, even worse, show that he had roughly a tenth of that amount in his accounts? Also there is the small section of Section 3 of the Code of Conduct Act which says that if an officer left something off his asset declaration form and it is brought to his attention and he declares it, there’s no reason to proceed to trial.

This Onnoghen issue boils down to rule of law, a concept sadly alien to so many in Nigeria. If we are going to move forward as a country, there must be the belief that our institutions of state are not subject to the whims and caprices of individuals.

This Onnoghen issue, from the fact that someone with ties to the President got access to the man’s forms, to the speed with which the CCB “investigated”, to the media trial, to the suspension of the Chief Justice without recourse to the National Assembly…


Can anyone now doubt that Justice Onnoghen was illegally suspended to compromise the bench ahead of the election petitions emanating from the 2019 elections?

The NJC has its work cut out now because it has to reinstate Justice Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria, and sanction those who collaborated in his illegal removal. It is imperative that the judicial regulatory body assert its independence.

Our form of democracy is meant to separate the three arms of government, and the removal of the head of one arm MUST be done by a strong agreement of the other two.

Judicial independence aside, it is clear to me that no one gave a moment to think of the implication of essentially telling the world that the head of our judiciary is corrupt, and the impact it has on perception of our entire country. You have told everyone that our judges can be bought. That impression will stick. To add to that, you have now told the world that you never bother to do your due diligence.

All of it tells the businesses that we need to invest in large numbers to make a dent in our 23% unemployment rate. That we do not respect rule of law, their investments are not safe, and that supposed investments will be badly handled.

Most importantly, when the inevitable dispute arises, they will not get recourse because first our judiciary is available to the highest bidder, and also subject to the whims of the powerful. Not comforting at all.

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