By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, has debunked reports that his residence was on Tuesday, invaded by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

Justice Onnoghen

Reacting to the report which has continued to gain traction in several social media platforms, Senior Special Adviser to the CJN on media, Mr. Awassam Bassey, described it as false news.

“I really don’t know where they got the information from. So many media men were here earlier with cameras over the same report. But what I can tell you for now is that there was no such thing. It is false news”, Bassey told Vanguard.

Meanwhile, many social media users that shared the story had attributed it to a post that originated from the former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode.

Fani-Kayode had in the said post, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately call off EFCC from Onnoghen’s residence.

He wrote: “Why have the EFCC surrounded the home of CJN Onnoghen and why are they seeking to arrest him?

“These people want Nigeria to burn! Buhari call off your dogs before it is too late!

“This is a democracy and not a gestapo state! In the name of God let this madness stop.”

The CJN is currently enmeshed in a legal battle with the Federal Government over the propriety of a six-count charge that was preferred against him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, following his alleged non declaration of some of his assets.

Aside allegation that he failed to disclose his assets as prescribed by law, FG, in the charge that was filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, accused the CJN of operating foreign back accounts.

The prosecuting agency alleged that contrary to relevant laws regulating conduct of public office holders, the CJN, maintained a domiciliary foreign currencies account that comprised of Dollars Account, Pound Sterling Account and Euro Account.

FG’s plan to arraign him on the said charges was stalled on Monday following refusal of the CJN to appear before the Justice Danladi Umar’s led three-man panel tribunal to take his plea.

Rather, Justice Onnoghen, whose travail was branded “a political witch-hunt” by the major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, challenged the jurisdiction of the CCT to try him on any of the allegations.

He is contending that FG failed to abide by existing judicial precedent as encapsulated in a recent Appeal Court decision in Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) LPELR-43391(CA), to the effect that any misconduct attached to the office and functions of a judicial officer, must first be reported to and handled by the NJC, pursuant to the provisions of the laws.

He argued that only after the NJC has pronounced against such judicial officer could prosecuting agencies of the Federal Government proceed to initiate a criminal proceeding.

Consequently, placing reliance on a recent decision of the CCT on a similar charge FG lodged against another Justice of the Supreme Court, Sylvester Ngwuta, the CJN’s legal team, maintained that FG’s decision to sideline the NJC, stripped the tribunal off its jurisdiction to entertain the instant case.

Shortly after the CCT panel fixed January 22 to hear the CJN’s objection to his trial, the Abuja Division of Federal High Court, in a counter move, issued an interim injunction that forbade the tribunal from taking further steps in the matter, stressing that all the parties should maintain their status quo.

The court in the ruling that was delivered by Justice Evelyn Maha further slated Thursday to hear two separate suits that two groups lodged to challenge the CJN’s trial.

Whereas the first suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/27/2019 was filed by incorporated ‎Trustees of the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, the second case marked FHC/ABJ/CS/28/2019 was lodged before the court by the Incorporated ‎Trustees of the International Association of Students Economists and Management.

Cited as Defendants in the suits were the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, Chairman of the CCT, Danladi Umar, the National Judicial Council, the Inspector-General of Police, ‎Mr. Ibrahim Idris, and the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
It will be recalled that EFCC had in 2017, said it was not investigating the CJN.

The commission which made the clarification to douse widespread insinuation that it was being used to scuttle Onnoghen’s chances to secure the judicial top-job, however admitted that it indeed looked into some petitions against him and found them unmeritorious.

“The commission wishes to state categorically that it is currently not investigating Justices Onnoghen and Kafarati.

“While Onnoghen was being considered for his present position, the commission received some petitions which were investigated and found to be without merit and discarded”, it stated.

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