•FG asks NFIU to freeze Onnoghen’s five accounts
•Buhari not aware of allegations against CJN until Saturday – Osinbajo
•CCB serves CJN charges, sets arraignment January 22
•EFCC invites Fani-Kayode, Odumakin over fake news on Onnoghen
•I regret the error — Fani-Kayode
By Clifford Ndujihe, Dapo Akinrefon, Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Joseph Erunke (With agency report)
ABUJA—THE Federal Government has asked the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, to freeze five accounts of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen pending the determination of the alleged false asset declaration case against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.
The Federal Government took the move via a letter by the Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, to the NFIU, dated January 14.
This emerged as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, yesterday, absolved his principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, of being behind the trial of Justice Onnoghen before the CCT.
Speaking at a one-day conference organised by Online Publishers Association of Nigeria, OPAN, with the theme: Free Press and Objective Reporting in the 2019 Election Year, Osinbajo said Buhari did not have any fact of financial misdemeanor involving the CJN until Saturday evening. He said it is highly regrettable that the CJN has to go through this process but that Buhari had issued specific instructions that anti-graft institutions be allowed to do their jobs without any interference.
“I must tell you in clear terms that President Muhammadu Buhari, his whole approach is that institutions should just do their work, I can tell you for a fact that he did not even know about this until Saturday evening.
This came as the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, served the charges on Justice Onnoghen, yesterday, in readiness for his arraignment on January 22.
Also, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, invited Mr Femi Fani-Kayode and Afenifere Spokesman, Mr Yinka Odumakin over alleged fake news on the invasion of Justice Onnoghen’s house.
While Fani-Kayode regretted the error in his comments, Mr Odumakin insisted that he never said that the EFCC invaded the CJN’s house and challenged the anti-graft agency to produce evidence that he did otherwise.
Also, the Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, alleged yesterday that President Buhari directed the seizure of financial assets of the CJN and members of his family.
Freezing of Onnoghen’s accounts
The minister made the request via a letter from his office 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’’ to the director of NFIU dated and received by the NFIU on January 14.
Signed by Mr. Abiodun Aikomo on behalf of the minister, the letter read: ‘’I am directed by Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to request that you, pursuant to the Presidential Executive Order No.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:
- Account No. 5001062686 (Euro) Standard Chartered Bank (SCB)
- Account No. 5001062679 (Pound Sterling) SCB
- Account No. 0001062650 (Dollar) SCB
- Account No. 0001062667 (Naira); and
- Account No. 5000162693 (Naira).’’
Why Buhari is not aware
Osinbajo said: “Let me say straightway that perhaps like any other government, President Muhammadu’s approach is that institutions should do their work; I can tell you for a fact that he did not even know about this until Saturday evening. He did not even know that there will be any kind of arraignment until Saturday evening.
“He (Buhari) has said categorically that don’t interfere with whatever institutions are doing; sometimes, it has consequences such as we have today; such that people say aaaah, how can such an important person be subjected to a trial without the Federal Government but I can tell you without any equivocation whatsoever that he is not even in the know because it is a specific instruction that he gave. So, even where somebody else calls a public officer such as (Ibrahim) Magu of EFCC and says something or the other, he will say ‘no no no, Mr president has said I can do my work.’
“In the case of the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Chairman of CCB where these things are reported to, is completely new, he is barely three weeks; I think he is not up to a month at the bureau.
“But the specific instruction to him is if you receive a petition, whatever it is, go through the process if there is credible information. That is the approach the president has taken. Sometimes, when he is asked, how come someone has not been tried? He will say time will come when whoever it is will face trial.
“My take is that I would rather not have a situation where senior members of my profession are being tried for an offence. Certainly, I will rather not have that kind of situation. So, I don’t feel particularly good about it; as a matter of fact, I feel very sad that it is going on at all. That’s my position on it.
“But I want to say that this is the way it works in any part of the world. People say all sorts, why is it that it is only the opposition? But the opposition was in power for 16 years, nobody shared this space with them. So, if there is going to be any kind of Federal prosecution, it is most likely going to be those in opposition but the only two former governors who I know have been convicted are APC members. No PDP governor has been convicted.
‘’I think sometimes, the way justice works, first it is slow; many times, it is interfered with. It is difficult for you to even get the facts because of the way things are done but I will like OPAN to get more into the facts; not the rhetoric.
“What are the facts here? Is there a valid case? So that we are commenting on substance because we are interested in a nation where corruption is removed or reduced completely. The only way we can do that credibly is if you in online media take the responsibility of investigative journalism. This is what happens everywhere in the world. Journalist go after the details the facts and then if you find that it is just a ruse, you can just say so; and if you find out that it is politically motivated, you say so but we must first check the facts.”
CCB serves charges on Onnoghen
Yesterday, the CCB served the criminal charges on false asset declaration on Justice Onnoghen preparatory for his arraignment on January 22, 2019 at the CCT.
However, the CCT will have to contend with the orders of a Federal High Court and National Industrial Court both in Abuja which restrained it from proceeding with the arraignment of the CJN pending the determination of two different suits before them.
However, a highly dependable source told the PRNigeria that the order of the two courts may not be binding on the tribunal because they are courts of coordinate jurisdiction which by law have equal powers.
The charges were served personally on the CJN by 3.30pm in his office at the Supreme Court of Nigeria Abuja. The source confirmed to the PRNigeria that Justice Onnogen personally received the charges and signed for it, a condition required before he could be properly arraigned at the CCT.
With the endorsement of the service of the charge, the coast is clear for the Federal Government to formally arraign Justice Onnoghen on January 22 before the Justice Danladi Yakubu Umar-led tribunal.
The CJN was billed to be arraigned on Monday, January 14, but he was absent on the ground that the condition precedent for his appearance had not been lawfully met by the prosecution.
Legal luminary, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, who led a retinue of senior lawyers to defend the CJN, informed the tribunal that his client was not at the tribunal to take his plea because he had not been served with the charges against him as required by law.
Besides, Olanipekun also told the three-man tribunal that the CJN is challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to try him and that the six-count-charge was not competent in law.
The ground of objection by the CJN is that as a serving judicial officer, he can only be punished for any offence committed by the National Judicial Council, NJC, a body empowered by the 1999 Constitution to deal with erring judicial officers without any recourse to any law court.
Although the Federal Government lawyer Alhaji Aliyu Umar (SAN) had sought to know why the CJN was absent in court, the Tribunal Chairman, Justice Umar directed the prosecution to do the needful by serving the charge on the person of Justice Onnoghen directly as required by law.
EFCC invites Fani-Kayode, Odumakin
Meanwhile, the EFCC said yesterday that two politicians, who alleged circulated a fake news on Tuesday, would be questioned today.
Tony Orilade, a spokesperson for the anti-graft office, said the news could injure the country’s interest and said Femi Fani-Kayode and Yinka Odumakin would have to explain their action.
Mr Fani-Kayode, a former aviation minister, posted a tweet Tuesday afternoon that EFCC operatives had surrounded the residence of Justice Onnoghen.
Mr Odumakin, an Afenifere chieftain, also posted a video saying he had learned of the EFCCs’ move against the top jurist.
Both claims turned out false by Tuesday night, with Mr Onnoghen himself denying the claim.
Mr Fani-Kayode is of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), while Mr Odumakin is a civic rights activist, who leans towards the PDP.
I regret the error — Fani-Kayode recants
However, Fani-Kayode, has backtracked on his allegation that the EFCC was planning to arrest the CJN.
Fani-Kayode on Tuesday 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.”
In the same vein, Yinka Odumakin uploaded a short video broadcast on social media, alleging a raid on the residence of Onnoghen.
In response, the anti-graft agency threatened to file a libel suit against the duo over the claim, saying it “never went to the house of the CJN for arrest neither was invitation extended to him.”
Reacting to the development in a statement, yesterday, Fani-Kayode expressed regret over the information he shared, adding that he has deleted the post from social media.
He said: “Yesterday I was informed by usually reliable sources that EFCC were positioned outside CJN’s home. I have since discovered that the men were not from EFCC and I removed the posting. The error is regretted.”
Fani-Kayode asked the federal government to “tell us which agency sent those men and why they beat a retreat.”
I never said EFCC invaded CJN’s house – Odumakin
On his part, Mr. Odumakin denied issuing a statement that the EFCC invaded Onnoghen’s residence and challenged the anti-graft agency to provide proof, saying “I have never pushed untruth to the public once and will never do.”
In a statement titled: The Security Cordon Around CJN House: EFCC Denial and Fake Allegations, Odumakin called on the EFCC spokesperson to substantiate his “unfounded claim.”
Odumakin said: “A meeting of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders held in Abuja on Tuesday which drew leaders from the four zones that made up the group. As the meeting came to a close, an informant came in to alert us that there was a security cordon around the CJN, Mr Walter Onoghen’s residence which he claimed were EFCC men.
“The leaders reviewed the information against the gestapo-like invasion of the National Assembly months back by DSS operatives without the knowledge of the then Acting President for which nobody was called to question beyond easing out the the DG DSS. It was in the same pattern that the residences of the Senate President and his Deputy were illegally sealed by the police sometimes ago just as the police just ended a six-day siege to the residence of Senator Dino Melaye.
“The leaders then resolved I should alert the public on the alarm that came to us upon which I recalled the media crew that just took our communique to release to them the information at our disposal that there was a cordon around the CJN residence which our source said were EFCC men and that the President should ask them to back off in order not to overheat the polity since the matter was already in court.
‘’It was late last night when I returned to Lagos that I saw the EFCC statement by one Tony Oriilade laced with many fake allegations that I said they raided the home of the CJN. I challenge the EFCC to bring out where I said such. That I said they arrested the CJN. I equally want them to substantiate that unfounded claim. That I circulated a non-existent (syntactic illiteracy) which went viral. I want them to produce the “non-existent” video. Even the video of my address was posted online by another party.
‘’I, however, note the denial by the EFCC that they were not the security agency our source indicated threw the cordon. It is regretted if our source had a mistaken identity of the people he saw. If the denial is true, it raises more fear about the indiscriminate manner security agencies are deployed in a democratic setting. The country needs to know the agency that threw the cordon that led to the panic which came to us yesterday (Tuesday) before we get to the point that criminals and bandits would begin to invade people’s homes posing to be security agencies.
“Not necessarily for the jejune, puerile and libelous tenses of Orilade but for the general public I say: I have interfaced with the public in the media in the last 33 years and have never pushed untruth to the public once and will never do.”
CUPP on Onnoghen
Meanwhile, the Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, had alleged yesterday that President Muhammadu Buhari directed the seizure of financial assets belonging to the CJN and members of his family.
The coalition of opposition political parties, which made the allegation at a press conference in Abuja, said it uncovered documents where the President allegedly gave the directive through the Attorney General of the Federation to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU.
Reading a prepared speech at the conference, CUPP’s 1st national spokesperson, Ikenga Ugochinyere, said the the group was also nursing fear over the safety of the CJN for what he described as “ fresh plot to harm him and evict him from office for refusing to compromise the composition of pre-and post- 2019 election petition panels for appeal at the Supreme Court.”
The speech read: “The Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, has uncovered yet another dastardly plot by the Buhari-led APC government to harm the Chief Justice of Nigeria for refusing to compromise the composition of the post 2019 election Supreme Court Appeal Tribunal.
“Lobbying of all sorts by the APC chieftains to get the Chief Justice of Nigeria to accept to compromise the Presidential Election Appeal Tribunal and to compose the governorship election Supreme Court Appeal Tribunal in Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Lagos, Benue, Imo, Kwara, Plateau, Kaduna, Abia, and Sokoto states with their preferred choices of justices did not succeed as the Chief Justice had remained faithful to his Oath of office and said by his actions that the Supreme Court was neither going to be partisan nor partial and would not consider such requests.
Freezing of family assets
“The current ordeal of the Honourable Chief Justice will not end soon. He is up against people who are desperate and who do not care if the engine of state grinds to a halt. They have taken this dastardly attack to a new low by freezing all the family assets of the family of the CJN.
“We are in possession of the letter from the Attorney General of the Federation to this effect. This onslaught on the judiciary is as undemocratic as it is unconstitutional. This is capable of further derailing our democracy as such brazen violation of the Constitution is only tantamount to treason.
“With the happenings in the last 48 hours and the insistence of the Presidency to either get the CJN to comply or be removed from office, we hereby notify the nation that the life of the Honourable CJN, Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen as well as those of his family members is not safe.
“The situation will very quickly descend into compromising the security of the CJN. The APC govt views the resistance of the CJN to the plot to hijack the Supreme court as the only piece that has not been fixed in its grand design to rig and manipulate the 2019 general election for President Muhammadu Buhari and APC chieftains.”