By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA- Poised for a fight, the Federal Government, has ordered the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, to immediately freeze five bank accounts belonging to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
FG directed the restriction of banking activities on the accounts, pending the determination of the six-count criminal charge it entered against the CJN at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, in Abuja.
The directive which was contained in a memo with Ref. No. HAGF/2019/E06/Vol.01, dated January 14 and addressed to the Director of the NFIU, emanated from office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN.
According to Malami, the action against Onnoghen is pursuant to the Presidential Executive Order 6 of 2018.
The Presidential Executive Order which was issued by President Muhammadu Buhari on July 5, 2018, permits the Federal Government to confiscate assets belonging to persons facing corruption related charges.
Meantime, the Memo against the CJN, a copy of which was sighted by Vanguard, was titled “Re: Request For Freezing of Bank Accounts Subject To Investigation And Prosecution Pursuant To Presidential Executive Order 6 Of 5th July 2018 On The Preservation Of Assets Connected With Corruption”.
It read: “I am directed by Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, the Honorable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to request that you, pursuant to the Presidential Executive Order 6 of 2018, forthwith restrict normal banking operations on certain accounts belonging to Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen pending final determination of the case against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT/ABJ/1/19, Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Hon. Justice Onnoghen Nkanu Walter Samuel).
“These accounts are as follows: (a) Account No. 5001062686 (Euro) Standard Chartered Bank) (SCB)
(b) Account No. 5001062679 (Pound Sterling) (SCB)
(c)Account No. 0001062650 (Dollar) (SCB)
(d)Account No. 0001062667 (Naira) (SCB), and
(e) Account No. 5000162693 (Naira).
“Please accept the assurances of the esteem of the honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice”.
The letter was signed by a senior lawyer at the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Abiodun Aikomo.
It will be recalled that the Federal High Court in Abuja had last year, validated the EO6 which was challenged by lawyers.
In a judgment that was delivered by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu with respect to a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/740/2018, the court held that President Buhari did not act beyond the powers available to him under the 1999 Constitution, as amended, by issuing Orders that would enhance the implementation of Executive Policies.
The court maintained that such Executive Order remained valid, as long as it does not affect the functions of other arms of the government, or offend the doctrine of separation of powers.
Justice Ojukwu however warned that the Order, which empowered the AGF to take steps, in liaison with relevant investigative agencies, to temporarily seize property linked with corruption pending investigation and conclusion of trial, must be executed with strict adherence to provisions of the Constitution.
FG had on the strength of the judgement which is currently being challenged at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, banned 50 high-profile Nigerians that are facing corruption charges, from travelling outside the country, pending the conclusion of their trial.
Among those on watch-list included thirteen former Governors and seven Ex-Ministers.
Meanwhile, it is not readily clear if the CJN whose planned arraignment before the CCT was botched on Monday following his refusal to appear before the Justice Danladi Umar’s three-member panel tribunal, has also been placed on the watch-list.
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 bank accounts.
The prosecuting agency alleged that contrary to relevant laws regulating conduct of public office holders, the CJN, maintained domiciliary foreign currencies accounts that comprised of Dollars Account, Pound Sterling Account and Euro Account.
Attempts to confirm from the CJN if he has had difficulties accessing the account did not yield fruit as at the time of filing this report.
Similarly, calls placed to the AGF were unanswered, even as he also did not respond to a text message sent to him with respect to FG’s latest action against the CJN.