The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), sitting in Abuja, yesterday, convicted the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, on all the six-count charge the Federal Government preferred against him.
The Danladi Umar-led three-man panel tribunal said it was satisfied that the Federal Government successfully proved its allegation that Onnoghen, who had voluntarily resigned his position as CJN on April 4, acted in breach of the code of conduct for public officers in the country.
But Onnoghen, through his lawyer, Mr. Okon Efut, SAN, gave a hint that he would appeal against his conviction by the CCT.
Though the former CJN declined to speak to journalists, his lawyer, in his reaction, insisted that the judgement was in breach of the fundamental principles of natural justice, equity and good conscience.
He alleged that the verdict was premeditated, adding that the CCT had on January 23 when it granted the ex-parte order President Muhammadu Buhari relied upon on January 25, to remove Justice Onnoghen from office as the CJN, revealed its position on the matter.
Umar had held that evidence of three witnesses that testified in the course of the trial, were not discredited by the defendant who was accused of failing to properly declare his assets, as well as operating five domiciliary foreign bank accounts.
The CCT chairman, who read the judgement, maintained that admission by the embattled former CJN that he forgot to declare the five accounts he operated since 2009, was “weighty enough” to guarantee his conviction.
He held that the defendant was unable to disprove “hard facts” that were brought against him by the prosecution.
“The prosecution has discharged the onus placed on it beyond every iota of doubt. It is clear that the defendant was in clear breach of the code of conduct for public officers. The prosecution successfully established its case, and the defendant is accordingly convicted”, the CCT chairman added.
Consequently, handing its sentence after it declared the defendant guilty, the tribunal, ordered that he is “hereby removed from office as the Chief Justice of the Nigeria, chairman of the National Judicial Council and the Federal Judicial Service Commission.
“Secondly, the defendant is hereby banned from holding any public office for 10 years”.
More so, the tribunal held that Onnoghen’s failure to explain how he amassed “huge amounts of money in his accounts”, was an indication that the funds were acquired illegally.
It, therefore, ordered that the funds should be “confiscated, seized and forfeited to the Federal Government”.
Meanwhile, Onnoghen, who appeared unruffled in the dock while the judgement was delivered, declined offer by the CCT chairman to plead for clemency.
Umar had before he commenced the sentencing, asked the defendant if he would like to make a plea of allocutus (for mercy), but Onnoghen simply bowed his head and told him, “no comment”.
Earlier before the judgment was delivered, the CCT boss, dismissed two preliminary objections the former CJN lodged to challenge the legal propriety of his trial.
Umar held that the CCT had the requisite jurisdiction to try the ex-CJN on the allegation that he falsely declared his assets.
He maintained that FG did not violate any portion of the law by bye-passing the National Judicial Council (NJC) to file the charge.
Umar said the tribunal was minded to overrule itself by departing from the position it took in a similar case the government instituted against Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court.
The CCT held that sections 158(1) and Paragraph 21(6) of the Third Schedule to the1999 Constitution, as amended, was not applicable in the case since FG did not charge the former CJN as a serving judicial officer, but as an ordinary public officer that acted in breach of the code of conduct for public officers.
“We resolve this issue against the defendant. The tribunal hereby affirm its jurisdiction to entertain the charge against the defendant which is competent.
“Though the tribunal is not unmindful of its previous decision in the case of Ngwuta, the tribunal will not hesitate to overrule itself in any previous decision which it is satisfied was reached on wrong reasons.
“I agree that we should do so in this case. In other words, the tribunal hereby reverses itself as regards the case against Ngwuta.
“The tribunal hereby overrules itself in the case of Ngwuta. The preliminary objection lacks merit and is hereby refused”, Umar held.
In a second ruling, the CCT chairman, said there was no merit in the former CJN’s application that he should recuse himself from the matter considering that he equally has a criminal allegation hanging on his neck.
Umar admitted that though it was a bribery allegation that was levelled against him, he said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), had in two separate letters dated March 5, 2015, and April 20, 2016, cleared him of any wrongdoing.
He said an initial charge that was entered against him was subsequently withdrawn by the EFCC on November 8, 2018.
“The issue regarding bribery allegation against the chairman has been resolved by the EFCC. All the issues raised by the Applicant have been dealt with without any ambiguity.
“The chairman is competent to proceed with the case”.
Besides, the CCT boss dismissed as unfounded, Onnoghen’s contention that he would not be granted fair hearing since the panel is answerable to the Presidency which was behind his travails.
Umar insisted that though the CCT is not directly under the NJC or the Federal Judicial Service Commission, he said the Presidency does not have any control over its decisions.
“Notwithstanding that the CCT is under the Presidency, that does not mean that it will bow under the whims and caprices of the Presidency or fail to decide cases brought before it dispassionately.
“All judges of courts of superior records are appointed by the President, including Chairman and members of the CCT. That does not reduce them to agents or appendages of the President”, he held.
Meantime, Justice Onnoghen, through his lawyer, Mr. Okon Efut, SAN, gave a hint that he would appeal against his conviction by the CCT.
Efuk said: “The journey has ended today because everything that has a beginning must have an end. So, this day, we have heard that the Chief Justice of Nigeria has been convicted and sentenced. The conviction is out of order, it is unconstitutional. It is a breach of fair hearing because before this day, on the January 23, the same judgement had been passed before now, removing the CJN without a fair hearing.
“So, it was a fair accompli, it was premeditated gas judgment had been passed before today. So, today’s judgement is just a formality and we hold the view that the tribunal has not only breached the constitution of Nigeria, it has breached the fundamental principles of natural justice, equity and good conscience.
“It has not only been able to pass judgement, it has convicted for an offence that was never charged and this is an erosion of the fundamental principles of our constitution. Until some questions are answered, for instance, why is it that the due course of justice was not allowed to flow? Why was judgement passed on January 23 before today, removing the CJN?
“Why is it that today, even after the CJN had tendered his notice of voluntary retirement and the NJC has taken a position, why is it that the tribunal has gone ahead to pass a judgement in total disregard of the independence of the NJC, in total disregard of the powers of the Senate in this matter? We hold a view that the tribunal in reversing itself in the case of Ngwuta, has breached the principle that hold us together.
“This is a sad day in our nation’s democracy and we know that all is not over with this matter. The wheel of justice grinds slowly but surely. This is not a matter that will end here. We shall avail ourselves of all the processes, the hierarchy of the judiciary and we know that the judiciary will redeem itself even though seriously battered and bruised. The judiciary will do justice. Justice has not been done today, but it will surely be done tomorrow. If not by the tribunal, but by our God. Justice will be done by our God”, he added.
It will be recalled that the tribunal had last Monday, reserved judgment on the matter after FG and Onnoghen adopted their final written arguments on Monday. Whereas Onnoghen urged the tribunal to discharge and acquit him, insisting that the FG failed to prove that he committed any offence that is known to the law.
On the other hand, Federal Government, asked the CCT to convict and impose maximum punishment on the former CJN, contending that it successfully established that he acted in breach of the code of conduct for public officers in the country.
The Federal Governemnt had in the charge marked CCT/ABJ/01/19, alleged that Onnoghen’s failure to properly declare his assets, was in violation of section 15(2) of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
It further alleged that the ex-CJN, who was suspended from office by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 25, operated five foreign bank accounts, contrary to the code of conduct for public officers.
However, in opposition to his trial, Justice Onnoghen, queried the validity of the charge against him, stressing that FG violated established judicial precedents by not allowing the National Judicial Council, NJC, to firstly investigate the allegation against him, before it rushed the matter to the CCT.
He argued that failure to channel the petition against him, as well as the outcome of the investigation that was purportedly conducted on assets declaration forms he submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to the NJC, rendered the charge invalid.
More so, the defendant urged the CCT to abide by a subsisting Court of Appeal decision in Nganjiwa v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2017) LPELR-43391, 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 maintained that only after the NJC had pronounced against such judicial officer could prosecuting agencies of the Federal Government proceed to initiate a criminal proceeding.
Justice Onnoghen drew attention of the tribunal to its judgment that quashed a similar charge against another Justice of the Supreme Court, Sylvester Ngwuta, on the ground that the NJC ought to have been allowed to look into the matter before the case was filed. He stressed that the two judgments were yet to be set aside by the Supreme Court.
Aside challenging powers of the tribunal to try him, Onnoghen, said he was afraid that he would not be accorded fair hearing by the tribunal which he described as an appendage of the Presidency.
He insisted that he was entitled to fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, under section 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The defendant argued that the CCB which recommended his trial, the Attorney General of the Federation who is prosecuting him, and the tribunal itself, are all answerable to the Executive Arm of the government.
He equally asked the CCT chairman to disqualify himself from the matter considering that he equally has a criminal allegation pending against him.
Nevertheless, the tribunal, in a ruling on March 11, relied on section 396(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, and Paragraph 5(5) of its Practice Direction, and held that it would not consider the merit of Onnoghen’s objection to the charge, till conclusion of the trial.
While Federal Government closed its case against the ex-CJN after it produced three witnesses to testify before the tribunal, the embattled former CJN who initially proposed to also call three witnesses to defend the charge, announced his decision to close his defence after his driver testified to the fact that he was present when the defendant submitted his assets declaration forms at CCB’s head office in Abuja.
Onnoghen had on April 4, resigned his position as CJN, shortly after the NJC, sent report of if its investigation into the allegation against him, to President Buhari.
Similarly, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has said that it will react formally to, yesterday’s sacking of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, has said.
Onnoghen was dismissed by Code of Conduct Tribunal, yesterday, in a judgment by its Chairman, Danladi Umar, who also barred him from holding any public office for a period of ten years in addition to forfeiture of cash in five accounts he failed to declare at the Code of Conduct Bureau.
“We will react formally, that’s for sure,” the publicity scribe said, even as he reiterated the support of the party in the fight against corruption.
Also, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent a Freedom of Information request to Chairman, Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Dr. Muhammed Isah, urging him to use his “good offices and leadership position to urgently provide information on specific details of asset declarations submitted to the CCB by successive presidents and state governors since the return of democracy in 1999.”
SERAP is seeking information on: “details of asset declarations by successive presidents and state governors between 1999 and 2019, including details of declarations made immediately after taking offices and thereafter, and for those who have left public offices, at the end of their term of office. Information is also sought on the number of asset declarations so far verified by the CCB and the number of those declarations found to be false and deemed to be in breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, by the Bureau.”
In the FOI request dated 18 April, 2019, and signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “While we welcome the judgment by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Justice Walter Onnoghen, we now urge the CCB to extent its mandates to enforce constitutional provisions on asset declarations by public officers to cover elected officers and to vigorously pursue the prosecution of any such officers who use their powers either as presidents or state governors over public funds to enrich themselves.”
According to the organization, “While judicial corruption is bad, the level of corruption involving many politicians since 1999 and the entrenched culture of impunity of perpetrators is equally appalling. Publishing the asset declarations of elected public officers since the return of democracy in 1999 to date would improve public trust in the ability of the Bureau to effectively discharge its mandates. This would in turn put pressure on public officers like presidents and state governors to make voluntary public declaration of their assets.”
The FOI request read in part: “SERAP is concerned that many politicians hide behind the fact that members of the public do not have access to their asset declarations to make false declarations, and to cover up assets illegally acquired in corruption or abuse of office.
PDP Govs, Ayu, Others Storm Lagos, Receive APC Members
Elected state governors on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other chieftains, led by its National Chairman, Dr Iyorchia Ayu; former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki; former PDP Deputy National Chairman, Olabode George;last Friday, converged on Lagos, with a vow to intensify strategy and efforts toward taking over the state leadership in 2023 general election.
Governors Nyesom Wike (Rivers); Seyi Makinde (Oyo); Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia); Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom), and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu); were among others in Lagos to witness and welcome Lagos4Lagos, a prominent dissident group in the All Progressives Congress (APC), in the state, to the PDP formally, held at Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS).
Other notable figures at the official declaration of the group from APC to PDP at the event were: Vice Presidential Candidate of PDP in 2019 general election, Peter Obi;and former Governor of Ondo State, Dr Olusegun Mimiko.
Others were: the PDP Deputy National Chairman (South), Amb Taofeek Arapaja; Publisher of Ovation, Dele Momodu;the General Secretary of PDP, South-West, Alhaji Rahman Owokoniran; including members of the National Assembly, state and other national executive committee members of the party.
The Lagos4Lagos group, led by Dr. Olajide Adediran, popularly called “Jandor”, along with his teeming loyal supporters, were well received by PDP stalwarts on the occasion.
In his address, Ayu urged Nigerians not to be deceived a third time in 2023 by those who deceived them with the mantra called “change”, and subjected them to hardship.
According to him, “Are you enjoying the change? How much is a bag of rice? They deceived Nigerians. We declare no more slavery in Lagos. By this time next year, we will celebrate a PDP governor in Lagos State.”
Also speaking, Ikpeazu described Adeniran as strategic and bridge builder, who would add value to the party in the state.
Ikpeazu noted that the forum’s Chairman and Sokoto State Governor, Hon Aminu Tambuwal could not make the event because he was bereaved.
“On behalf of my brother governors, we officially join the Lagos PDP family, to welcome new strategic members of our party.
“You are very important and strategic. PDP is the only democratic party in Nigeria,” he said.
Ikpeazu urged members of the PDP family in the state to give Adediran maximum support and cooperation for the defector to contribute his quota to the growth of the party.
“Jandor is the bridge between the young and the old in Lagos politics, and he should be given full support by all so that there can be unity,” Ikpeazu stated.
Wike said: “Jandor has made PDP Lagos family to be one. The more, the merrier. As he has joined us, you will see what will happen in Lagos.”
In his remarks, Chairman, Lagos State Caretaker Committee, PDP, Engr. Julius Akinsola handed over the PDP card and other paraphernalia of the party to the Lead Visioner, Adediran.
Akinsola said that PDP belongs to the masses, especially the new defectors and millions within and outside the nation.
“It is the party of equal opportunity and it welcomes all Nigerians,” Akinsola said while welcoming Adediran and all his followers.
He urged the new defectors to mix with existing members across the ward, local, state and national levels.
Akinsola, who noted that PDP works on rules and regulations, urged the new members to read the constitution from beginning to end.
He, however, handed over Adediran to the Chairman of PDP in Ojo Local Government Area, Mr Aremu Hassan, where the leader came from and unveiled him to the members of the party in the state.
In his address, Adediran said his group has moved to where numerical strength would be put to test.
According to him, if Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State could win election without being a former lawmaker or having support of the government at the centre, he would win governorship election in 2023.
“We have declared for the PDP, we are going to win for the party. We are here (PDP) to add value, we are here to be part of the big family, and together, we will take over Lagos,” Adediran boasted.
It would be recalled that, Adediran had stated at a gathering organised for the group at Amuwo Odofin Local Government, during a tour of the area, that he was prepared and ready to convert the Lagos PDP delegate structure to a governorship structure.
The Amuwo Odofin-born politician stressed how important the local government was to him.
According to him, “January 21, (Friday) 2022, will be the final burial of APC in Lagos State.
“On that day, January 21, will be the official declaration of our group to PDP, and it will be broadcast on national television. The event will be held at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) with 10 governors present at the event.
“On January 21, it is the day that we have set aside for the final burial ceremony of APC in Lagos State.
“That day, the political party called APC will cease to exist in the state of Lagos. We are trying to rewrite the history of our dear state and it’s going to happen in 2023.”
$2.5bn Returnees’ Investments Set For Rivers
The African Diaspora Development Institute (ADDI) and a Nigerian firm, International Property Investment and Development (IPIAD), have embarked on a journey to bring back home descendants of Africans that were sold into slavery all over the world.
To this end, plans are on the way to develop a $2.5billion-5-star mixed-use business, leisure and historical destination resort city project in Rivers State.
The project being championed by IPIAD, a historical tourism development firm, ADDI and other foreign partners is aim to attract back home African Americans who want to relocate to Nigeria or re-discover their ancestral roots, families, kingdoms and villages in Nigeria.
In a statement, yesterday in Abuja, after a visit of President of ADDI recently in Lagos, IPIAD’s President, Prince Kalada William-Jumbo, said the first phase of the proposed TUSONDEL City project was estimated to cost $2.5billion and over a period of 10 years expected to attract investments of around $10billion.
William-Jumbo noted that African Diaspora Development Institute (ADDI) recently concluded a successful ground breaking ceremony of a similar project referred to as “Wakanda City of return” in Cape Coast, Ghana which attracted a lot of Africans in the Diaspora to come back home to Ghana/Africa.
On the choice of Rivers State as the location, William-Jumbo who is also a member of the ADDI advisory board said “Bonny Kingdom is one of the oldest, richest and most famous of all the Kingdoms in the region and like its land, its history is also very rich and old, but not without controversy and pain.
“Historically, Bonny Kingdom was a major strategic trading and economic hub hundreds of years ago. A centre for learning, commerce and trade, and still is till this day. At the peak of Bonny Kingdom’s reign, between the 19th – early 20th century, the people of Bonny and the extended Niger Delta kingdoms in general, also participated in the dreadful but at that time, very lucrative business of slave trading.
“When slavery was finally abolished by the British, Bonny Kingdom and other slave trading kingdoms began a journey of decline and eventually fell. Majority of the slaves that were sold and shipped off to North America especially the USA, were sold and shipped off from Bonny Kingdom.”
While calling on the Rivers State Government to support and invest in the project, the statement said: “The first phase of our planned TUSONDEL City project is estimated to cost $2.5billion and over a period of 10 years is expected to attract investments of around $10billion.
“When completed the TUSONDEL City project will boost economic and business activities around and beyond the Armpit of Africa, create thousands of new jobs and businesses, promote tourism, economic and leisure activities in Finima, the Bonny Kingdom area, the extended Niger Delta area and Nigeria in general for both Nigerians and foreigners alike.
“Nigeria and Nigerians stand to gain enormously from the wealth of experience our African brothers, sisters and children in the Diaspora possess. They really want to come back home to visit, at least once, so as to enable them decide on relocation plans, to trace their ancestral homes and families, obtain a 2nd citizenship, start a new Life, Invest in Africa, train their fellow Africans and create lots of jobs/business opportunities.
“We’re also looking for kingdoms families towns villages and people whose ancestors were directly or indirectly involved in the Slave Trade for Forgiveness and Re-unification Prayers which will foster in a new era of Prosperity Peace Love Unity and Freedom.
“We plan to formally meet the Governor of Rivers State so as to partner with us, Rivers State Government and the good people of Finima, Bonny Kingdom as equity stake partners in this laudable joint development of our proposed Lost City of TUSONDEL Project by providing us with approximately 2,500 hectares of project land for the project site at Finima and expedite all necessary approvals/support.”
‘FG Attracts $31.82bn From US, Five Others In 33 Months’
Capital inflows from the United Kingdom, the United States, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the Netherlands, and Mauritius hit $31.82billion in three years, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
The NBS data showed that the six countries accounted for 83.32per cent of the total capital of $38.18billion imported into Nigeria from over 100 countries from January 2019 to September 2021.
The UK accounted for the highest foreign inflow of $17.34billion, followed by the US ($5.79billion), South Africa ($3.99billion), UAE ($1.80billion), Netherlands ($1.68billion), and Mauritius ($1.09billion).
According to the NBS, capital importation data is obtained from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and includes imported physical capital, such as equipment, and financial capital importation.
It added that capital importation comprises three main investment categories, namely foreign direct investment, foreign portfolio investment, and other investments.
It said FDI includes equity and other capital, while FPI includes equity, bonds, and money market instruments; ‘other investments’ include trade credits, loans, currency deposits, and other claims.
In 2019, Capital inflow from the six countries declined from $20.09billion in 2019 to $7.94billion in 2020.
It stood at $3.78billion in the nine months to September 2021.
The Managing Director, Cowry Asset Management, Johnson Chukwu, attributed the drop in capital importation to the fall in FPI.
According to him, portfolio investors are probably discouraged to invest in the Nigerian market due to foreign exchange illiquidity.
He said, “The decline in capital importation has been consistent for the past three years, if you look at the data.
“In terms of portfolio investment, which is the major component, I think the issue is that foreign portfolio investors have likely stayed away from the Nigerian market because of foreign exchange illiquidity, as some of the funds that are trapped are yet to be accessed.”
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