President Muhammadu Buhari has suspended Walter Onnoghen as chief justice of Nigeria (CJN). He has sworn in Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, from Bauchi state, the next to Onnoghen in the order of seniority as the new CJN.
Buhari said the suspension was based on the order of Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on January 23, 2019.
The swearing-in ceremony done inside the council chamber of the presidential villa in Abuja, was done after the president signed the new executive order 007 on the Road Infrastructure Development and Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit Scheme.
Mohammed was driven into the forecourt of the president’s office in a black Mercedes Benz C240 with number plate GWA 900FA at 4:30pm.
The Anti-Corruption and Research Based Data Initiative (ARDI), a civil society group, launched a legal move to remove Onnoghen.
The group had written a petition against him at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). The CCB is empowered by the constitution to investigate public officers, after which it would forward its findings to the appropriate body for trial if the allegations are confirmed.
It had listed a number of allegations against Onnoghen — notably false declaration of assets.
ARDI said Onnoghen “is the owner of sundry accounts primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself up to as recently as 10th August 2016 which appear to have been run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials”.
The group said its petition, dated January 7, 2019, became necessary “bearing in mind the imminence of the 2019 General Elections and the overwhelming roles of the Judicial Arm both before and after”.
Shortly after this, the CCB filed a six-count charge against the former CJN at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) but he failed to appear before the tribunal while his lawyers challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter.
The National Industrial court in Abuja also restrained the CCT from proceeding with the trial and ordered the police not to arrest Onnoghen.
But the federal government continued with the trial, directing the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to restrict five accounts of Onnoghen while he was also asked to step down pending the determination of the case.
Onnoghen was planning to swear in members of the national assembly, governorship and state assembly election petition tribunals when the news of his removal broke.
He had earlier debunked some reports that he resigned out of pressure.
“There is absolutely no truth in the rumours making the round that the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria, His Lordship Hon. Mr. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, GCON, has resigned his office. It is fake news! The Hon CJN was in the office all through yesterday (Thursday) and sat in court,” he had said in a statement which Awam Bassey, his spokesman, issued on his behalf.
“As part of his duties, the Hon CJN will be swearing in members of the 2019 national assembly, governorship and state assembly election petition tribunals tomorrow (Saturday 26th January 2019).”