The National Judicial Council (NJC) on Monday thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for accepting its recommendation on the voluntary retirement of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen. The NJC’s appreciation which has been conveyed to the president was contained in a statement made available to journalists by NJC’s Director of Information, Soji Oye.
“The National Judicial Council held an Emergency Meeting today to take formal note of the acceptance of the voluntary retirement of Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, as Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari. The President’s acceptance of the retirement is in line with Council’s recommendation to the President on April 3, 2019. Council at the end of its deliberations, thanked the President for the acceptance which was in the best interest of Nigeria,” the statement read.
Onnoghen had sent in his letter of retirement to the president on April 4, 2019, a day after Council recommended for his compulsory retirement over corruption allegations.
President Buhari Sunday night said he has accepted the voluntary retirement of the country’s top judge accused of not declaring his asset. Buhari’s spokesman Garba Shehu said Walter Onnoghen’s retirement is effective from May 28, 2019. “President Buhari has accepted the voluntary retirement from service of Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria, effective from May 28, 2019,” presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said in a statement.
Sources said Onnoghen resigned in April, less than two months after he was charged with non-declaration of assets that government critics said was politically motivated. He was convicted and sacked as the chief justice by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on April 18. He was also stripped of all benefits attached to former offices he held.
Onnoghen also lost funds in five bank accounts traced to him and has been barred from holding public office for the next ten years. His appeal of the conviction was dismissed. Buhari suspended Onnoghen just weeks before elections in February, prompting outrage and claims that the president was trying to manipulate the judiciary. Lawyers protested on the streets. A request to remove the CJN normally has to be approved with a two-thirds majority in the Senate
Buhari said apart from the “grievous” allegations in a petition against Onnoghen, “the security agencies have since then traced other suspicious transactions running into millions of dollars to the CJN’s personal accounts, all undeclared or improperly declared as required by law.” He said Onnoghen’s excuse that the non-declaration was due to mistake and forgetfulness was not known to law.
As head of the Supreme Court, Onnoghen could have ruled on any disputes relating to the election, which saw Buhari, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), win a second term of office. His defeated rival, Atiku Abubakar, from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has launched a legal challenge to the result, after calling the election a “sham”.