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
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.
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.