Africa

Nigeria: Chief justice guilty of declaring false assets

Tribunal removes Walter Onnoghen as substantive head of judiciary and bans him from holding public office

Rafiu Oriyomi Ajakaye   | 18.04.2019
Nigeria: Chief justice guilty of declaring false assets

LAGOS, Nigeria 

Nigeria's code of conduct tribunal on Thursday convicted the country's suspended chief justice on charges of false assets declaration -- the highest-ranking official to suffer such fate in the country.

By ranking, the chief justice is Nigeria’s fifth-highest official.

Walter Onnoghen is guilty of not declaring his bank accounts in line with the code for public officials, tribunal Chairman Danladi Umar held in a landmark ruling in the capital city Abuja.

Onnoghen, until January the chief justice of Nigeria, was suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari after he was accused of official corruption, including failing to declare his assets. 

The code of conduct bureau, which is responsible for setting the rules guiding public officials, had slapped a six-count charge against Onnoghen. He had denied wrongdoing.

But the tribunal said the judge was guilty of the charges.

"The tribunal has examined the exhibits and the testimonies of the witnesses and found the defendant guilty of breach of code of conduct for public officers," Umar ruled. 

Onnoghen was banned from holding public office for the next 10 years, and the monies in his five bank accounts were confiscated.

The ruling is subject to reviews by higher courts, but has gone down as the most significant for the anti-corruption crusade of Buhari, who once accused the judiciary of being a stumbling block to the campaign.

Onnoghen's debacle had split the country's legal community down the middle, with some backing the president and others insisting the rule of law had not been followed.

The National Judicial Council, the highest body for judicial officers in Nigeria, last week concluded hearings on a petition against Onnoghen and reportedly recommended his compulsory retirement. 

Hours after his conviction, Onnoghen filed a 16-ground notice of appeal challenging the tribunal's ruling.

He is seeking seven reliefs from the appeal court, including “an order setting aside [his] conviction" by the three-person tribunal.

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