PREMIUM TIMES has obtained details of a statement given by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, to the Code of Conduct Bureau which is accusing him of false asset declaration.
In one note seen by this newspaper, Mr Onnoghen said he “forgot to update his asset declaration, after the expiration of his 2005 declaration”.
Mr Onnoghen also explained that he believed that the form SCN 000015 filed in December 2016 after he emerged acting CJN would cover for the period after his confirmation as CJN.
The case against Mr Onnoghen came after a group, the Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative, sent a petition against him alleging wrongdoing in his asset declaration.
The group said the CJN, Nigeria’s most senior judicial officer, maintained illegal accounts containing foreign currencies and did not declare them.
The group’s head, Denis Aghanya, is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress and a former publicity secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change.
The group said, its petition was brought “bearing in mind the imminence of the 2019 elections and the overwhelming role of the judiciary both before and after the election.”
A statement by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Saturday, said Mr Onnoghen would be arraigned for alleged false asset charge on Monday — seven days after the petition was brought.
Some lawyers have alleged the trial is politically motivated.
Sebastian Hon, a senior advocate of Nigeria, told PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday it is “more political than it is honest”.
“While I know that the Chief Justice of Nigeria does not enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution, I see this move by the Federal Government as dangerously political and tendentious,” he said.
“Suddenly, we woke to see a petition leaked to the informal or social media, allegedly received by the Code of Conduct on 9th January, 2019. Suddenly, we are told charges have been filed against the CJN. Why this supersonic rush?”
In his response to the queries raised by the CCB, Mr Onnoghen wrote as follows:
“My asset declaration form numbers SCN 00014 and SCN 00005 were declared on the same day, 14/12/2016 because I forgot to make a declaration of my assets after the expiration of my 2005 declaration in 2009. Following my appointment as acting CJN in November, 2016, the need to declare my assets anew made me to realize the mistake.
“I then did the declaration to cover the period in default. I did not include my standard charted bank account in SCN 000014 because I believed they were not opened.
“I did not make a fresh declaration of asset after my substantive appointment as CJN because I was under the impression that my SCN 000015 was to cover that period of four years which includes my term as CJN,” Mr Onnoghen said in his statement dated January 11.
Mr Onnoghen was first appointed acting CJN on November 10, 2017 following the retirement of the former CJN, Mahmoud Mohammed.
His appointment as acting CJN came amidst criticism of President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure to forward his name to the Senate for confirmation as the most senior judge.
On February 8, 2017 Vice President Yemi Osinbajo returned Mr Onnoghen’s name for confirmation to the Senate on March 1.
Mr Onnoghen was subsequently sworn in to office as Nigeria’s 17th CJN on March 8, 2017.