The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, will on Monday be arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over alleged non-declaration of assets.
The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) filed a six-count charge at the CCT on January 11, accusing Nigeria’s head of judiciary of failure to declare his assets between June, 2005 and December, 2016.
The alleged offences were contrary to provisions of Section 15(1) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act Cap C15 LFN 2004 and punishable under Section 23(2) a, b, and c of the same act.
In the first count, Onnoghen was accused of failing to declare and submit a written declaration of all his assets and liabilities within the prescribed period of three months after he was sworn in as a justice of the Supreme Court in 2005.
The CJN was also alleged to have falsely declared his assets to the CCB after he was appointed the Chief Justice of Nigeria by omitting to declare a domiciliary (US Dollar) account No. 870001062650 he maintained with the Standard Chartered Bank (Nig.) Ltd. Wuse 2, Abuja which is being operated since 2011.
The charges also accused him of falsely declaring his asset by omitting to declare a domiciliary (Euro) account No. 93001062686 also with the same bank.
He was also accused of falsely declaring his asset by omitting to declare a domiciliary (Pound Sterling) account No.285001062679 maintained with the same Standard Chartered Bank.
Count five said the CJN on or about December 14, 2016 “falsely declared your assets in your Declaration of Assets Form CCB 1 (after you were sworn in as the Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria) by omitting to declare an e-Saver savings (Naira) account No. 5001062693 maintained with Standard Chartered Bank (Nig.) Ltd, Wuse 2, Abuja which is being operated since 2011.”
Count six of the charge accused the CJN to have “falsely declare in your Declaration of Assets Form CCB 1 (after you were sworn-in as the Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria) a (Naira) account No. 010001062667 maintained with Standard Chartered Bank (Nig.) Ltd. Wuse 2, Abuja which is being operated since 2011.”
The charge was signed by Musa Ibrahim Usman (Esq) and Fatima Danjuma Ali (Esq) on behalf of the Code of Conduct Bureau.
The Head of Press and Public Relations Unit of the tribunal, Ibraheem Al-Hassan, in a statement on Saturday confirmed that service of summons has been effected on the defendant and that the three-man panel of the CCT, led by Justice Danladi Y. Umar, will commence Onnoghen’s trial on Monday.
“The Code of Conduct Tribunal has scheduled Monday, January 14 for the commencement of trial against current Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Onnoghen Nkanu Walter Samuel for alleged non declaration of asset,” he said in the statement.
“This was consequent to application filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau to the CCT chairman yesterday for the trial to commence against the Chief Justice of Nigeria on six count charge.
It was gathered that the charges against the CJN followed a petition filed on January 7 before the CCB by a civil society group, Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative (ARDI).
In the petition, ARDI claimed that Onnoghen “is the owner of sundry accounts primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself up to as recently as August 10, 2016 which appear to have been run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials”.
In his reaction to the allegations of false asset declaration preferred against him by the CCB, Onnoghen attributed it as a mistake on his part.
The CJN, in a statement to the CCB investigators on Friday, January 11, also explained that the undeclared foreign currencies found in his Standard Chartered Bank account were sourced from his estacodes and medical allowances, including funds from his days in private practice between 1979 and 1989.
He further explained that the withdrawals from his Pound Sterling and Euro accounts were for the school fees and upkeep allowances of his children abroad.
“My Asset Declaration Form No SC N 00014 and SCN 00005 were declared on the same day 14/12/2016 because I forgot to make a declaration of my assets after the expiration of my assets after the expiration of my 2005 declaration in 2009,” the CJN stated.
“Following my appointment as acting CJN in November 2016 the need to declare my asset anew made me to realise the mistake,” he stated.
The CJN further explained that he did not include the funds in his domiciliary accounts because he believed the accounts were not opened during the period covered by the declaration.
Following the retirement of former CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed after reaching the mandatory age of 70, President Buhari, on November 10, 2016 appointed Justice Onnoghen as the acting CJN.
The planned arraignment of the CJN will be the first time a serving Chief Justice of Nigeria would be standing trial.
It is the second time a justice of the Supreme Court would be charged with false asset declaration under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. The last was Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, who was, however, discharged and acquitted by the CCT.