By Mohammed Momoh
Nigeria’s former Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen has been barred from holding office for ten years after an ethics tribunal found him guilty of six counts of false declaration of assets.
The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) presided over by Justice Danladi Umar and two others on Thursday, declared that that 68-year-old Onnoghen breached the provisions of the code by hiding five bank accounts from his wealth disclosures.
The conviction effectively means Onnoghen “is removed as CJN and chairman of NJC.” NJC, the Nigeria Judicial Council which advises the president on matters regarding the judiciary.
It also has a disciplinary role in the sector and appointment of executive members of the judiciary. He will also forfeit the money held in the accounts in hard currency. The amount in the accounts was not disclosed.
The case sets a precedent in Africa where high ranking government officials are treated with kid gloves when it comes to enforcing laws, especially on corruption.
Even when found guilty, they are given soft landings by only being removed from office and being slapped with light fines without the assets being confiscated.
Those who end up in prison can still count on a presidential pardon if they are still in the establishment’s good books
Justice Onnoghen, had earlier on Thursday lost his bid to stop the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) from trying him.
The prosecution said the defendant had confessed in a statement to the Code of Conduct Bureau, a view discredited by the defence which viewed the prosecution as political.
The prosecution said Onnoghen had attempted to correct the anomaly after years of disregarding the provisions of the law.
His conviction is unprecedented as he was the first serving chief justice to be put on trial and found guilty. Nigeria’s most senior judge resigned on April 5 after he was charged with non-declaration of assets that government critics said was politically motivated.
Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed to purge corruption in the west Africa state which Transparency International often ranks among the most corrupt countries in Africa.
Mr Buhari was re-elected in February,
In January, Atiku Abubakar – the president’s main challenger in the election – called Justice Onnoghen’s suspension “an act of dictatorship”.
Mr Onnoghen would have presided over any petition against President Buhari’s election but was ordered by the federal government to vacate office a few weeks to the elections.
Mr Abubakar has gone to court to challenge the result of the election.