Presidency: No deal with Onnoghen over resignation
•Anxiety as defence, prosecution set for final addresses at CCT trial, •Adoption of final addresses holds on April 15
•Prosecutors meet on final address to present to CCT
There is no deal between the Presidency and embattled Justice Walter Onnoghen on his exit as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN),The Nation learnt last night.
Onnoghen who had been on suspension since January 25 following allegations of corruption against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), turned in his letter of resignation on Thursday.
Then followed speculations that he had reached an agreement with the Presidency for the purpose of giving him a soft landing after the National Judicial Commission (NJC) recommended that he should be compulsorily retired.
However, highly placed Presidency sources said yesterday that at no time was a deal reached between the seat of power and Onnoghen or his representatives on how he should leave office.
Sources said his ongoing trial for non-declaration of assets would run its course.
There was anxiety yesterday over his fate at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) which is handling the case.
Some forces in government are said to be pushing that the trial should go on, some members of the bench and the bar are in support of the NJC decision that Onnoghen be retired.
A top source in CCT said the tribunal will go ahead with its sitting on April 15 unless there is a notice of discontinuance of the trial from the prosecutors.
The tribunal has given the Onnoghen’s lawyers up till Tuesday (April 9) to file their final address.
The prosecutors have an April 11 deadline to submit their final address.
The prosecutors were locked in a marathon session yesterday to prepare their final address. According to the tribunal, all addresses will be adopted on April 15 by the two parties.
A top source, who spoke in confidence, said: “The fate of Onnoghen is still dicey. It is unclear whether or not the Presidency will see through the conclusion of his trial by the CCT.
“There are also some alleged infractions which were investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). We do not know if he will face trial or not on these.
“While some in government and rights groups have been calling for his trial, some members of the bench and the bar are trying to lobby the Presidency to adopt the soft-landing window provided by the NJC.
“President Buhari is awaiting the legal opinion he commissioned on NJC’s report and he might unfold his position when he returns from Jordan.”
Another highly-placed source said of Onnoghen:
*Isn’t his retirement notice or resignation an afterthought?
- Does retirement amount to acquittal of any offence?
- If he wanted retirement, why did he allow this case to the extent of attracting political propaganda against the government?
- Why would NJC recommend retirement with full benefits without deterrence for Onnoghen?
- Shouldn’t the outgoing CJN forfeit suspicious funds in his accounts, especially monies outside his salaries, investment and official allowances?
*Will it not amount to double standards to slap Onnoghen on the wrist while other Nigerians go to jail for lesser offences?
- Will a political pardon for Onnoghen put an end to the Cold War between the Executive and the Judiciary?
*Won’t any pardon for the outgoing CJN mess up the anti-corruption agenda of Buhari?
The source added: “There are many salient points surrounding this Onnoghegate. The outgoing CJN said he decided to retire or resign to save the Judiciary.
“By the time the legal advice is out and digested by the President, we will know where we are going.
“Even in the Presidency, we know that Onnoghen’s retirement or resignation has made the case at hand to be interwoven.”
Sources at the CCT said: “We have not received any notice of the discontinuance of the trial of the CJN. We do not know whether or not the prosecutors will file any application next week.
“Going by our schedule, the trial continues. The CCT has directed Onnoghen’s lawyers to submit their final address on Tuesday (April 9) and the prosecutors will take their turn on April 11.
“All parties are to appear before the tribunal on April 15 for the adoption of their addresses. But if the government chooses to withdraw the charges against Onnoghen on April 15, the tribunal has no case than to strike out the matter.”
It was gathered that the federal government prosecutors met yesterday to compile their final address.
A source in the prosecuting team said: “We have not got any directive from the government that we should either stay action or discontinue the trial of Onnoghen.
“We are holding a session to wrap up our final address and meet the timeline set by the CCT.”