Onnoghen is paying for his sins Garba Shehu tells UK, EU and U.S.

The Nigerian presidency has released another statement addressing the United Kingdom (UK), The European Union (EU) and the United States of America (US) in respect to their reactions to what they described as the illegal suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari last week over false declaration of assets at the Code of Conduct Bureau.

The statement released by the Nigerian presidency through the presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu is in response to the three issued statements by the UK, EU and US advising the Nigerian government to retrace its steps and reinstall Mr. Walter Onnoghen. Who has been suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari and had also appointed a successor in an acting capacity.

Before the suspension of Mr. Walter Onnoghen, the UK and the US has threatened to slam a ban on any Nigerian found guilty of rigging and instigating violence during the forthcoming general elections in Nigeria.

In the statement issue to the UK, EU and the Us, Garba Shehu, he stated that Nigeria welcomes prevailing interests and partnerships for a successful 2019 general election. It however said the government would not condone unfair interference in matters that are wholly internal.

Mr. Shehu again issued another statement Sunday evening saying the government has noted with interest the coordinated statements of the US, UK and EU linking the suspension of CJN Onnoghen to the conduct of the upcoming elections. However,”We appreciate the concerns voiced by the three statements and accept that the authors of the statements believe they were acting in friendship toward Nigeria with regard to making the statements. “We also note that friends, when not properly informed or acting in haste, can indeed make serious mistakes even with the best of intentions. Such is the case here.”

According to Garba Shehu, “The statements by the three diplomatic channels seem more driven by unfounded assumptions and certain condescension to this African democracy.”

He also describes the position taken by the three as unfortunate and this has prompted the Nigerian government to clarify some points in the hope that they (US, UK and EU) will reach a deeper understanding of the situation.

Garba Shehu added that Mr. Walter Onnoghen is only paying for his sins. Mr. Onnoghen’s situation, he said, is one of his own making and, to a large degree, his own choosing.  The CJN was brought before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), because of a serious breach of law regarding his assets declaration.

Garba Shehu further stated that the breach of law by Mr. Walter Onnoghen is not a mere technicality like innocently placing a document in a wrong file or mistakenly placing yesterday’s date on a document. But all credible evidence indicates the CJN owned and operated several secret bank accounts. Unexplained large sums of money, exceeding several million dollars have passed through these accounts.

And at the moment several thousands of dollars are currently parked in the accounts. Multiple deposits of equal sums of money were deposited in some of those accounts during the same day. Such rapid and equal deposits are indicative of a person attempting to evade banking reporting laws and regulations. To make matters worse Mr Onnoghen so far has not given any plausible explanation for the funds or for failing to report the subject accounts in his assets declaration despite having ample time.

Mr. Garba Shehu stated that given the amount of money involved and the CJN’s inability to explain the source of the funds, “the most plausible explanation at this point is also the most unfortunate explanation”.

“No one did this to CJN Onnoghen. He and he alone is to blame for this turn of events.

Mr. Garba Shehu reminded the EU, UK and the US that over the years and with great frequency, they had advised and even chided Nigeria about official corruption. Now the country is presented with the sad and unwanted situation where the CJN is discovered to have a vast, unexplained amount of money in his pocket. Based on this he has been thoroughly discredited. It is untenable that a person of Mr. Walter Onnoghen in such compromised circumstances would be allowed to preside over the entire judicial system of a great nation. That would travesty the nation and what it stands for.

Mr. Garba Shehu challenged the EU, UK and the US saying that “Had the situation been reversed and the US, UK or any EU member government found that its chief judicial official is the recipient of large sums of money of questionable origin and Nigeria suggested that you retain the person in that position, they would had questioned Nigeria’s bona fides. In addition he said that he believe that if Mr. Walter Onnoghen case is to come up in the UK, EU or US they would have swiftly move to suspend the him pending final determination of the cases against him. He said that he was very sure that they would not allow a person enmeshed in legal uncertainty to preside over their legal systems until the cloud has been cleared from him as this would incentivise corruption and assault the rule of law.

According to the Nigerian presidency, Mr. Walter Onnoghen should have helped the process by rescuing himself from the bench until the matter is settled. But instead of doing that he “indefinitely postponed a National Judicial Council (NJC) meeting for no plausible reason except to avoid any consideration of this matter by the NJC. This action of Walter Onnoghen calls into question his motives while undermining the normal operations of the judiciary. The Nigerian presidency has decided to ensure that the CJN will not be allowed to use his office to shield himself from the normal operation of the law as applied to any other jurist or any other Nigerian for that matter as such a ruse is effectively an abuse of office. The Presidency however stated that his position is one of utmost public trust and it is not a shield to protect him from the fair consequence of his own actions.

The government further clarifies that the CJN has neither been removed from office nor, permanently replaced and referred to those who claim that he has been permanently removed, as people who are engaging in an act of imprecision of thought or mischief as the CJN Mr. Walter Onnoghen has been suspended pending the final determination of the substantive issues in his matter. The suspension is only temporary. This is only as it should be.

The reason for the suspension of Mr. Walter Onnoghen is to set aside as he cannot sit as both defendant and umpire in his own matter. No legal system allows for such self-interested adjudication and the government has asked US, UK and EU not to ask the Nigerian government to embrace such an anomaly.

The government also said that EU, UK and the US seem to give much credence to those who question the constitutionality of the suspension of the CJN, they seem to give less to those who believe what it did is constitutional and “protective of the integrity of the judiciary.

The government also dispel the school of thought which tries to link the CJN suspension and the forthcoming elections by saying that in Nigerian law there is no such linkage.  The CJN does not run the election. Nor is he the first arbiter of any electoral complaints. He and the Supreme Court will only get involved as the final arbiter at the end of the appellate process.

The government stated that to link the CJN to the elections in this way is illogical unless they assume that election complaints will be filed and will go all the way to the Supreme Court. Here perhaps they know something about the intentions of certain political actors to which government are not privy.

The government also challenged the US , UK and the EU that if that be the case would they  want any of such matters to be heard by a Supreme Court led by a CJN without an obvious and outstanding ethical and legal blemish on his ledger? In fact to have such a person preside over any of such case, would call into question the impartiality of any decision rendered and undermine the rule of law.

The government believed that the above-stated scenario is not what the US, UK and EU would have intended for Nigeria. The government further requested the US, UK and EU to do a bit more research on this matter and refrain from being too hastily attracted by the arguments of those who have partisan agenda at odds with the government’s positions on most matters and who thus hope to use this issue as a new arrow in their quiver of partisan contestations in the forthcoming elections.

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