Nigeria: Onnoghen Not Removed, Presidency Tells U.S., UK, EU

Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen.
28 January 2019

The Presidency yesterday said the position of the US, UK and EU on the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen was driven by unfounded assumptions.

The US, UK and the EU in separate statements on the CJN suspension said, "it risks affecting both domestic and international perceptions on the credibility of the elections".

Reacting last night, the Presidency said: "The statements by the three seem more driven by unfounded assumptions and to be honest, a certain condescension to this African democracy. This is unfortunate. But this gives us an opportunity to clarify some points in the hope that these three friends reach a deeper understanding of the situation."

The presidency in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said the statements by the US, UK and EU speak of their respect for constitutional practice and fair elections.

"However, the positions they stake tend to contravene rather than strengthen these laudable objectives.

CJN Onnoghen's situation is one of his own making and, to a large degree, his own choosing," he said.

He said the CJN was brought before the CCT because of a serious breach of law regarding his assets declaration.

"This is not a mere technicality like innocently placing a document in a wrong file or mistakenly placing yesterday's date on a document.

"All credible evidence indicates the CJN owned and operated several secret bank accounts. Unexplained large sums of money, exceeding several million dollars have passed through these accounts. Several thousand dollars are currently parked in the accounts. Multiple deposits of equal sums of money were deposited in some of those accounts during the same day. Such rapid and equal deposits are indicative of a person attempting to evade banking reporting laws and regulations.

"Over the years and with great frequency, the authors of the three statements have advised and even chided Nigeria about official corruption. Now we are presented with the sad and unwanted situation where the CJN is discovered to have a vast, unexplained amount of money in his pocket.

"Because of this he has been thoroughly discredited. It is untenable that a person in such compromised circumstances would be allowed to preside over the entire judicial system of a great nation. That would travesty the nation and what it stands for.

"Had the situation been reversed and the US, UK or any EU member government found that its chief judicial official is the recipient of large sums of money of questionable origin and Nigeria suggested that you retain the person in that position, you would question Nigeria's bona fides. You also would swiftly move to suspend the official pending final determination of the causes against him," he said.

He said not one of the three nations would allow a person enmeshed in legal uncertainty to preside over their legal systems until the cloud has been cleared from him.

The presidency said the CJN has neither been removed from office nor permanently replaced.

"CJN Onnoghen has been suspended pending the final determination of the substantive issues in his matter. The suspension is only temporary. This is only as it should be. He cannot sit as both defendant and umpire in his own matter," he said.

The presidency said no legal system allows for such self-interested adjudication "the US, UK and EU should not now ask us to embrace such an anomaly."

He said it is illogical to link the CJN's suspension to election.

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