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).
The NJC asked President Muhammadu Buhari to give effect to the recommendation immediately.
But the NJC urged the President to allow Justice Onnoghen retain his seat as a former CJN in the Council of State
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 a judicial misconduct and same is punishable under the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers.