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Guilty As Charged: NJC recommends Onnoghen for retirement

Justice Walter Onnoghen

Justice Walter Onnoghen

The National Judicial Commission (NJC) has recommended Walter Onnoghen, chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), for compulsory retirement.

After deliberating on the petition filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Wednesday, members of the NJC unanimously agreed that Onnoghen has lost the moral authority to continue as CJN with the litany of allegations bordering on misconduct.

The NJC — which handles disciplinary issues of judicial officers — sat under the interim leadership of Umaru Abdullahi, former president of the court of appeal, who had to act because Onnoghen was already under suspension.

The council also concluded that Tanko Muhammad did not commit any offence by making himself available to be sworn in as acting CJN without the recommendation of the NJC.

These recommendations have been passed to President Muhammadu Buhari for approval, Soji Oye, the council’s director of information, informed the media on Wednesday, although he did not make the details public.

The report notwithstanding, the president still has to seek the approval of the senate for Onnoghen to be retired if he wants to follow the CJN route. This will require two-thirds majority of the upper legislative chamber.

Section 292 (1) of the 1999 constitution says a “judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances – (a) in the case of – (i) Chief Justice of Nigeria… by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.”

Onnoghen is also undergoing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over allegations of false asset declaration — and if found guilty, he could be removed.

Buhari suspended Onnoghen on January 25, 2019 following an order made by the CCT, following the report of an Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative (ARDI), a civil society group, which launched the legal move to remove Onnoghen.

The group had filed a petition against him at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) over alleged false declaration of assets.

The CCB is empowered by the constitution to investigate public officers, after which it would forward its findings to the appropriate body for trial if the allegations are confirmed.

It had listed a number of allegations against Onnoghen — notably false declaration of assets.

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