Something unprecedented is about to happen: On Monday, the country’s sitting chief justice would be arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over alleged non declaration of assets. If the trial goes on, it would be the first time in the nation’s history that a sitting chief justice would be prosecuted.
Statement by the Head of Press and Public Relations Unit of the CCT, Ibraheem Al-Hassan: “The application was filed yesterday by the operatives of CCB, dated 11st January, 2019 and signed by Musa Ibrahim Usman (Esq) and Fatima Danjuma Ali (Esq), containing 6 count charges all bothers on non declaration of asset. Service of sumoms has been effected to the defendant, the three man panel led by Justice Danladi Y. Umar, will commence the trial on Monday, 14th January, 2019 at its courtroom, situated at the headquarter, along Jabi Daki biyu, Saloman Lar way, Abuja, at about 10:00am.”
What we know: Onnoghen has been accused of owning and operating different domiciliary foreign currencies accounts in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officers. The Federal Government is accusing the CJN of refusal to declare his assets in breach of the provision of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act.
Why this matters: It is hard to see this as anything other than a political power play to remove Onnoghen in time for the 2019 elections. Buhari has never been a fan of the chief justice. Recall that Onnoghen served as acting chief justice for over three months before his name was finally forwarded to the senate for confirmation by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. At the time, President Buhari was abroad on one of his medical vacations. Several commentators have alluded that the president is uncomfortable with a Southerner presiding over the nation’s highest court. The judiciary may play a key role in the aftermath of the next general elections and the timing of Onnoghen’s trial may be a strategy to ease him out. The chief justice went through security clearance before being confirmed – so one wonders at what point his infractions were noticed. This is one story a lot of Nigerians will monitor in the buildup to the next elections.