By Mark A. Upaa
Almost two months after Walter Onnoghen accepted the recommendation of the National Judicial Council for his early retirement. President Muhammadu Buhari has finally accepted the voluntary retirement of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria. This was made known by the presidential image maker Garba Shehu. In his statement; “The President thanked Justice Onnoghen for his service to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and wished him the best of retirement life.
Before the embattled, erstwhile CJN faced trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal on a six-count charge of alleged failure to declare his assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau. Onnoghen was born on the Dec. 22, 1950 at Okurike Town, Biase Local Government Area of Cross Rivers. He began his primary school education at the Presbyterian Primary School, Okurike Town between 1959 and 1965. From 1978 to 1979 Onnoghen worked with the Ministry of Justice in Lagos as the Pupil State Counsel. Between 1989 – 1998, he was a High Court Judge of Cross River Judiciary.
During his time as the High Court Judge of Cross River, he was made the Chairman of Cross River State Armed Robbery and Firm Arms Tribunal and he held the post for 3 years from 1990 – 1993. Sometime in 1996 while still holding the post of High Court Judge of Cross River, he was appointed the Chairman, Judicial Enquiry into the Crisis between Students of the University of Calabar and Obufa Esuk Orok Community, Calabar.
In 1998, he was the Chairman, Failed Banks Tribunal, Ibadan Zone. Between 1992 and 2004, he served as the Judge, High Court of Rivers, while from 1998 to 2005, he served as Justice of the Court of Appeal. In 2007, Justice Onnoghen played a huge role in 2007 election which saw the Late Umaru Yar’adua emerge as President of Nigeria. He had a dissenting judgment that annulled the presidential election. His position was however a minority judgment.
After being nominated as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria by the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, he was confirmed by the Senate on March 1, 2017, and sworn in on March 7. Onnoghen’s trials for false assets declaration began when a petition was filed by the civil rights group at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), alleging that he owned sundry accounts.
It alleged the accounts were primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself up to as recently as Aug. 10, 2016, and which appeared to have been operated in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials. The trial began on Jan. 14
In further judicial matters, President Buhari has written the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, on the appointment of additional five Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
The Special Advicer to the President on media Garuba Shehu confirmed the President wrote officially: ‘‘Pursuant to the provisions of Section 230(2) A&B of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), I am pleased to request that you initiate in earnest the process of appointing additional five Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to make the full complement of 21 Justices as provided by the aforementioned provisions of the Constitution. “This is in line with the Government’s Agenda of repositioning the Judiciary in general and Supreme Court in particular for greater efficiency, with a view to reducing the backlogs of appeals pending at the Supreme Court. “Please accept, your Lordship, the assurances of my highest regards.”