NJC says Onnoghen retired voluntarily, thanks Buhari

The National Judicial Council on Monday expressed its   gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari for accepting Walter Onnoghen’s voluntary retirement  as Chief Justice of the Federation.

A   statement by  the NJC’s     Director of  Information, Mr Soji Oye,  said the body extended its  thanks to  Buhari at its  emergency meeting  on Monday to “formally take note” of the President’s acceptance of Onnoghen’s voluntary retirement.

Oye said Buhari’s acceptance of Onnoghen’s voluntary retirement was in order.

The statement read, “The National Judicial Council held an emergency meeting today to take formal note of the acceptance of the voluntary retirement of Mr Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The President’s acceptance of  his  retirement is in line with council’s recommendation to him on  April  3, 2019.

“The council at the end of its deliberations thanked the President for the acceptance which was in the best interest of Nigeria.”

Onnoghen reportedly tendered his letter of resignation voluntarily about two days after the NJC concluded its investigation  into  the  allegations of  misconduct levelled against him.

On  April 18,  the Code of Conduct Tribunal, where Onnoghen was on January 11 charged with non-declaration of  part of his assets, convicted him and as punishment ordered his removal from office. The CCT also   barred him from holding public office for 10 years and ordered the forfeiture of his undeclared assets.

Meanwhile, the NJC’s claim in  its  statement  contradicted Buhari and the Attorney General of the Federation’s claim  in a court document   they recently filed jointly to oppose a suit  seeking  to stop the appointment of acting CJN Justice Tanko Muhammad on a permanent basis.

The  court documents   were filed  by the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary of the  Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr Dayo Apata, on behalf of three out  of seven defendants in the suit instituted by Malcom Omirhobo Foundation.

The plaintiff in the suit  dated April 8, 2019, faulted Buhari’s unilateral suspension of Onnoghen  on January 25  without the input of the Senate and the NJC.

The seven defendants are the Federal Judicial Service Commission, NJC, Federal Government, AGF, Senate, Buhari and Justice Muhammad.

Responding to the suit on behalf of the Federal Government, AGF and  Buhari, Apata filed a response stating that the NJC recommended Onnoghen’s  compulsory retirement.

They also confirmed officially for the first time that Onnoghen subsequently submitted his voluntary letter of resignation to Buhari.

Both the NJC’s recommendations and Onnoghen’s  voluntary   retirement  came less than two weeks to the judgment of the CCT convicting  then-CJN and ordering, among others, his removal from office.

The court  documents  were, however, silent on the action the government had taken on Onnoghen.

The trio’s counter-affidavit read in part, “That the 1st defendant (NJC) after deliberating on a petition by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission alleging financial impropriety and infidelity to the constitution against the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, recommended his compulsory retirement.

“That the Chief Justice subsequently turned in his letter of resignation letter to the 5th defendant (Buhari).”

In their written address, they stated that the contention by the plaintiff that Onnoghen was removed by Buhari on January 25, 2019 was wrong, insisting he  was only suspended.

They also  said  the NJC recommended Onnoghen’s  compulsory retirement in the written address.