Onnoghen Heaves A sigh Of Relief As Buhari Approves His retirement

By Nwangwu Uba

The National Judicial Service  Commission, NJSC,  appears to have provided a soft landing  for Walter Onnoghen , a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, to tender his voluntary  retirement  letter instead of awaiting to be  sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari over alleged allegations of fraudulent declaration of Assets  against him being  investigated by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.

 The former CJN, who is 68 and was due to retire in 2020,  going by the retirement age of the Justices of the Supreme Court which was  pegged  at 70,  was said to have tendered his voluntary retirement  letter to the President  on April 4, 2019 to save himself from further embarrassment from the government Investigation Agencies which was affected  him psychologically.

The former CJN, may  have thought along the line  that his case was a legal matter that could be handled legally  but got it wrong.  unknown to him t was  a political matter that could be resolved politically to still hold his head  high in the legal Profession. After several months of behind the scene maneuvering,   he was  forced to tender his voluntary retirement  letter to the President  which was approved by him,thus qualifies  him to retire with his full  entitlements  and benefits of pensions ,gratuity and other sundry allowances   as a former CJN.

Walter Onnoghen: tenders His Voluntary Retirement which Was Accepted By The President.

The Katsina state born Nigerian President who had suspended  the former CJN , from office last late last January  based on the recommendation of the CCT,  over allegations of false declaration of Assets and reports of maintaining domiciliary accounts  with Standard Chartered Bank , Nig. Ltd, which was against Civil Service rules  was said to have accepted his resignation without questioning.

Garba Shehu, a senior Special Assistant  to the President on Median and Publicity, who confirmed the president’s acceptance of the  former CJN, voluntary retirement   disclosed that” it became effective   from May 28, 2019. With the  retirement of Onnoghen, the former CJN, the coast is now clear  for Tanko   Muhammed, the acting CJN, to be confirmed as the country’s CJN , by the President.

 The President may not have  confirmed him  as there cannot be two CJNs, in a country at a time. It is not surprising why NJC, has to prepare the round  for the former CJN , to resign . Garba  disclosed that  the President  who was very appreciative of his service to the nation had  thanked him   and ”wished him the best of retirement life”.

The good news  was that the Cross River state born  CJN, will not  lose anything despite his suspension from office in the last six months.  Given the number of years he has put in the  Bench  and subsequently  rose  to the enviable position of CJN, before he ran into  what political watchers described as political trouble,  he may go home with  about  N 3 billion  as his retirement benefits  both in cash and  kind.  More of the  juicy packages for him, according to Judiciary sources   will be a house that will built for him in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, FCT,  with a nine -digit sum for furnishing and  severance gratuity  of about 300 percent  of his yearly basic salary package  of about N3.4 billion  pension for life. This is in addition  to domestic Staff and other sundry allowances for personal upkeep.

There was the initial fear that the President  will turn down   his resignation letter because of his troubles with the CCT and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

The fear became pronounced  when the EFCC, submitted the report of its three -year  secret investigation on him, to the President last January, which was very indicting, fueling speculations that he may turn down his  resignation letter.  Robert Clark , a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN,  had expected then CJN , to resign from  last February  as   soon as information filtered out that the EFCC, has submitted  a secret  report  on  him to the President but he stayed put awaiting to be forced out.  Clark had  made a case for him by pleading with the President to accept his resignation letter.

Note that the  anti-graft agency    had initiated  a secret investigation  on the former CJN  Accounts  both local and domiciliary  to justify  while he should  be sacked  or forced to resign from office by the president on the recommendation of the NJC. The Commission   had investigated  his  alleged transactions  with the Nigerian Stock Exchange , NSC, Central Security and Clearing System, CSCS,  to get  details of high yield stocks  and bond  options  held  in the Capital Market to have  something incriminating  to nail him before the President and thus force him to  resin  to make  way  for the next senior Justice  to him in the Bench to take over from him.

It was  also said to have beamed  its search light  on the country’s Discount Houses to check his transactions  history  in treasury bills  and how much instruments were financed  by him.  The EFCC, investigators  may have gone  a step further to reach out to the  Abuja Geographical Society, AGIS,  to obtain his list of properties, Vehicle Inspection office, VIO, to ascertain the number of exotic vehicles owned by him, and the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS,   to know his Currency declarations  for movements  outside the country.

The Ibrahim Magu, a Commissioner of Police, CP, led Commission,  was said to have found within its three-year investigation of the  former CJN, that   has major foreign investments, particular in   ”Life Friend plc,  Agricole, Lloyds and Pur Noble, all blue chip Companies in the United Kingdom , yielding  him thousands of dollars  dividend annually.  The Companies, going by the  agency findings    had paid   $121,116 and $482,966 , respectively into his domiciliary Account with Standard Chartered Bank plc,. The domiciliary Account, alone, according  to the EFCC investigators   had a yearly turnover  of  55,154 Euro   between 2013 and 2016 . His choice property in Maitama, a high brow area of Area,  further exposes his enormous wealth , which the Commission calls for questioning.

Political  watchers believe that if Buhari had accepted the EFCC  secret report on Onnoghen, which was very damning, there is no way he could have accepted his  voluntary retirement  letter, rather he would have given the Commission the nod to do their job by  prosecuting him, an indication that he may have  forfeited all the money found in his domiciliary Accounts and Houses  found in Abuja , to the government.  ”he has  left office as a former CJN, a clean  person”, a lawyer remarked.

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