Less than two years after he was sworn in as Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen is scheduled for arraignment before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Monday, January 14, for allegedly omitting to declare his assets.
The case was set in motion by a civil society group called Anti-corruption and Research-based Data Initiative (ARDI), which on January 7 raised alarm over alleged illegal transactions discovered in Onnoghen’s bank accounts in a petition to the Code of Conduct Bureau.
Three days later, on Thursday, the federal government filed a six-count charge against the CJN for not declaring his assets, during his employment under the Supreme Court between June 8, 2005 and December 14, 2016—constituting an offence under section 15(1) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
The law provides that “every public officer shall, within fifteen months after the coming into force of this Act or immediately after taking office and thereafter (a) at the end of every four years [and] (b) at the end of his term of office.”
The CJN is also accused of illegally operating five domiciliary accounts in various foreign currencies with Standard Chartered Bank since 2011.
The Tribunal has said in a statement released on Saturday afternoon that trial will commence on Monday at the premises of the Federal Capital Territory High Court in Jabi, Abuja.
“This was consequent to an application filed by CCB to the CCT Chairman last Friday for the trial to commence against the CJN on six-count charge,” Ibrahim Al-Hassan, CCT’s Head of Press and Public Relations said.
“However, service of the summons has been effected to the defendant. The three-man panel led by Justice Danladi Y. Umar will commence the trial on Monday, January 14, at its courtroom at about 10 am.”
In the original petition sent to the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, ARDI, which did not reveal how it made its discovery, said its findings show that Onnoghen “is embroiled in suspected financial crimes and breaches of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act”.
“His Lordship Justice Walter Onnoghen is the owner of sundry accounts primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself, up to as recently as 10th August 2016 which appear to have been run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials,” it claimed.
“Justice Onnoghen made five different cash deposits of $10,000 each on 8th March 2011 into Standard Chartered Bank Account 1062650;
“On 7th June 2011, two separate cash deposits of $5000 each were made by Justice Walter Onnoghen, followed by four cash deposits of $10,000 each;
“On 27th June 2011, Justice Onnoghen made another set of five separate cash deposits of $10,000 each and made four more cash deposits of $10,000 each on the following day, 28th June 2011.”
The group further said the CJN in his asset declaration form of December, 2016, claimed he only had two bank accounts with Union Bank, whereas there were at least five others with Standard Chartered Bank also operated by him. According to it, the balances as at November 14, 2016, were N3,221,807, N8,131,195, $164,804, €55,154, and GBP108,352.
“Prior to 2016, His Lordship appears to have suppressed or otherwise concealed the existence of these multiple domiciliary accounts owned by him, as well as the substantial cash balances in them,” the petition added.
“It is our humble view that, with the foregoing, we have laid before you facts which support the assertion that Justice Walter Onnoghen may have committed a breach of the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act.”
The petition and consequent charge by the federal government have been suggested to be political moves, especially given the backdrop of Onnoghen’s delayed inauguration as Chief Justice. He was not sworn in by the government until roughly four months after his predecessor, Mahmud Mohammed, retired and he assumed office as Acting CJN.
The delay, the government had explained, was due to investigations conducted by security agencies into the probity of the Supreme Court justices.