The National Judicial Council (NJC) has recommended the compulsory retirement of the Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Walter Onnoghen, based on “incontrovertible” findings on him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission( EFCC).
It asked President Muhammadu Buhari to give effect to the recommendation immediately.
But the NJC urged the President to allow Justice Onnoghen to retain his seat as a former CJN in the Council of State.
According to The Nation, the council also said the CJN should be retired with full benefits.
According to a source, who pleaded not to be named “because of the sensitivity of the matter”, the compulsory retirement of Justice Onnoghen was the major highlight of NJC’s meeting yesterday.
All NJC members were said to have decided not to comment on the meeting because “it would not be right to do so when a letter has been sent to the President on their decision.” He should get the letter before any comment, the source said.
The source said: “The NJC has been able to navigate the most challenging moment for the nation’s judiciary by recommending compulsory retirement of Onnoghen with full benefits.
“The NJC specifically demanded that the CJN be allowed to take his eminent position in the Council of State like his predecessors.
“If these recommendations are accepted, the Executive may be on the same page with the Judiciary by staying action on the ongoing trial and other pending trials of the CJN.”
The NJC may have adopted a “win-win approach” to ensure that the Executive and the Judiciary are on the same page.”
Another source familiar with how the NJC arrived at its decision said the “EFCC’s report on Justice Onnoghen was damning and incontrovertible”.
The anti-graft agency accused the CJN of “being in possession of funds which are fairly not attributable to his known, provable and legitimate source of income”.
The opening of a dollar account in Standard Chartered Bank for the CJN by a lawyer, Joe Agi, with $30,000 was said to be unhealthy.
The EFCC had accused Justice Onnoghen of being unable to account for curious deposits in his accounts.
The anti-graft commission alleged that deposits had accumulated to $1,716, 000.
The amounts in the said account were deposited as follows: $74,200 (2009); $291,800 (2010); $340,000 (2011); $625,000 (2012); $298,000 (2013); $40,000 (2015) and $47,000 (2016). The total was $1,716,000.
The agency also accused Justice Onnoghen of depositing $1,716,000 in a United States dollar account operated with the Standard Chartered Bank in 2009, marked as exhibit P4 C, between 2009 and 2016.
The petition said: “From the evidence on record, it is clear that the Respondent failed to declare all the accounts and funds in exhibit P4-P4D when he declared his 2014 asset in November 2016. Your lordship will observe that the Respondent only declared his salary account with the Union Bank exhibit P3 and failed to declare P4-P4D, which are the accounts that warehoused funds that are far above the Respondent’s known and provable lawful income.
“My lords, by the provisions of Rule 1.2 of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers, it is clear that because members of the public expect a high standard of conduct from a judge, the Respondent is under the obligation to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities both in his professional and private life. It is our submission, my lords, that any conduct of the Respondent that give rise to the appearance of impropriety is judicial misconduct and the same is punishable under the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers.
“It is our humble submission that the petitioner proved before this Honourable Panel that the Respondent was in possession of funds which are fairly not attributable to his known, provable and legitimate source of income. The evidence shows that my lord earned a monthly salary in the sum of N750,819.87, which is about N9,000,000.00 per annum. My lords, as shown in exhibit P10A page 14 paragraph XXVI, the Respondent only earned the sum of N91,962,362.49 as salary between September 2005 and October 2016. It is also on record that the exhibit P3 is the salary account of my lord wherein his salaries are paid.
“My lords, the evidence before this Honourable Committee shows clearly that the Respondent opened United State Dollars account with the Standard Chartered Bank in 2009, exhibit P4 C. This USD account was opened by Mr Joe Agi SAN and the first cash depositor of United States of America dollars into the said account. We humbly refer my lords to the entry of the 29th day of June 2009.
“Though the Respondent claimed that he was the one who gave the learned SAN, Joe Agi the $30,000.00 to deposit to exhibit P4C, the Respondent could not give any reasonable explanation as to the source of this money. My lords, the Respondent admitted under cross-examination that the USD was not his salary and that he only received dollars as estacodes which is meant for his official trips.
“My lords, upon the opening of the USD account exhibit P4C, a lot of cash deposits in Dollars were made to this account. The evidence before my lords is that between 2009 and 2016 a lot of cash deposits were made into exhibit P4C.
“My lords, from the evidence before this Honourable Panel, it is clear that these huge sums of money were not earned by the Respondent as his salaries and allowances. It is our humble submission that the burden of proving the legitimate source or origin of the sum of $1,716,000.00 lies heavily on the Respondent.”