- Opposition parties kick
- Buhari unaware of decision to arraign Onnoghen, says Osinbajo
- He knew, insists PDP
- Agbakoba tells court to quash charges
Tobi Soniyi, Ejiofor Alike in Lagos, Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu in Abuja
The federal government, through the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, has requested the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to freeze five bank accounts of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, pending the final determination of the case against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
But Vice President Yemi Osinbajo stated Wednesday that President Muhammadu Buhari only got to know about the planned arraignment of Onnoghen, at the CCT on Saturday.
Osinbajo’s claim was repudiated by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which said Buhari knew much more than his deputy was telling Nigerians.
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), which made public the communication from the AGF to NFIU on the freezing of CJN’s accounts, also raised the alarm over the safety of Onnoghen in the hands of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government, as well as moves to confiscate his assets and freeze his bank accounts for allegedly refusing to compromise the composition of the post-general election appeal tribunals.
In a letter addressed to the Director of NFIU signed by one Abiodun Aikomo, on behalf of AGF, the justice minister said the request to restrict normal banking operations in the five accounts was in line with the Presidential Executive Order No. 6 of July 5, 2018.
The letter with reference number HAGF/2019/E06/Vol. 1, was titled, ‘Re: Request for freezing of bank accounts subject to investigation and prosecution pursuant to Presidential Executive Order No. 06 of July 5, 2018, on the preservation of assets connected with corruption.’
Malami’s letter, which was dated January 14, 2019, was also received and acknowledged by the NFIU on the same date.
Part of the letter reads, “I am directed by Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to request that you, pursuant to the Presidential Executive Order No. 06 of 2018, forthwith restrict normal banking operations on certain accounts belonging to Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen, pending final determination of the case against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT/ABJ/1/19 – Federal Republic of Nigeria V. Hon. Justice Onnoghen Walter Samuel)”.
The letter listed the five accounts to include: Account No. 50010626886 (Euro) in Standard Chartered Bank (SCB); Account No. 5001062679 (Pound Sterling, SCB); Account No. 0001062650 (Dollar, SCB); 0001062667 (Naira, SCB); and Account No. 5000162693 (Naira).
Buhari Unaware of Decision to Arraign Onnoghen, Says Osinbajo
Meanwhile, Osinbajo has stated that Buhari only got to know about the planned arraignment of Onnoghen at the CCT on Saturday.
He also expressed sadness over the trial of the CJN and the President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro.
The CJN was arraigned at the CCT over alleged non-declaration of assets.
He expressed regrets that the CJN had to go through the process.
He, however, said the president had issued specific instructions that anti-graft institutions should be allowed to do their jobs without any interference.
The vice president made these clarifications yesterday in Abuja during a one-day conference organised by Online Publishers Association of Nigeria (OPAN), with the theme, “Free Press and objective reporting in the 2019 election year.”
He said, “I must tell you in clear terms that for President Muhammadu Buhari, his whole approach is that institutions should just do their work.
“I can tell you for a fact that he did not even know about this until Saturday evening. He did not even know that there will be any kind of arraignment until Saturday evening.
“He has said categorically, do not interfere with whatever institutions are doing; sometimes, it has consequences such as we have today; such that people say how can such an important person be subjected to a trial without the federal government?
“But I can tell you without any equivocation whatsoever that he was not even in the know because it is a specific instruction that he gave.
“So, even where somebody else calls a public officer such as Ibrahim Magu of EFCC and says something or the other, he will say `no, no, no, Mr. President has said I can do my work.
“My take is that I would rather not have a situation where senior members of my profession are being tried for an offence; certainly, I will rather not have that kind of situation.
“ So, I do not feel particularly good about it; as a matter of fact, I feel very sad; that it is going on at all, that is my position.’’
Osinbajo tasked online publishers to go after details and check the facts before publishing; warning that online news was losing credibility.
PDP Insists Buhari is Aware of CJN’s Arraignment
However, the PDP accused Osinbajo of being economical with the truth, when he stated that Buhari was not aware of the plans by the executive arm to arraign Onnoghen before the CCT.
The Director of Media and Publicity of PDP Presidential Campaign, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement yesterday in Abuja, said Osinbajo should know that Nigerians are aware there is no way such high level decision, like the arraignment of the CJN in a court, would be taken without the awareness, input and clearance by the president.
Rejecting Osinbajo’s claim, the PDP challenged the vice president to explain why the president did not stop the arraignment on Monday or said anything on the matter since then.
The main opposition party stressed that the presidency was only trying to sway public opinion on the matter following the outrage by Nigerians against the arraignment of the CJN.
Ologbondiyan stated, “If the avowal by Vice President Osinbajo was true, then it goes to confirm the assertion that President Buhari is not in charge of governance but has outsourced the responsibilities of his office to unelected individuals due to his incompetence.
“Vice President Osinbajo’s assertion has also confirmed the claims by our First Lady, Aisha Buhari, that a cabal has taken over the control of the presidency, for which she forcefully called on Nigerians to take back their country.”
CUPP Raises the Alarm over Onnoghen’s Safety
In a related development, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), has raised the alarm over the safety of Onnoghen.
The CUPP revealed that it had uncovered a plot by the federal government to freeze the CJN’s bank accounts as well as confiscate other family assets via a letter from the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami to the Director, Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU).
In a statement issued Wednesday by CUPP’s spokesperson, Mr. Ikenga Ugochinyere, the coalition lamented that the current ordeal of the CJN will not end soon, adding that he is up against forces who are desperate and who do not care if the engine of state grinds to a halt.
The CUPP, which said it was in possession of a letter from the AGF to freeze Onnoghen’s accounts as well as seize his assets, lamented that the APC had taken the attack to a new low by moving to confiscate the family assets of the CJN.
It noted that Nigerians would be shocked by the contents of the letter directing the freezing of the accounts and assets of the CJN.
SAN: Executive Order Freezing CJN’s Accounts Unconstitutional
In his reaction, a senior lawyer, Chief Sebastine Hon, SAN, said the Executive Order freezing the accounts of the CJN was unconstitutional, null and void on many fronts.
According to him, the president donated the powers of ‘coordination’ exercisable under that Executive Order to the Attorney-General of the Federation.
Hon, who has written many books on the constitution, said, “This can be gathered from the express wordings of the order. On the face of the so-called order directing a freezing of the CJN’s accounts, however, the Attorney-General did not personally sign the Order; rather, it was one Abiodun Aikomo.
“This renders the order invalid; because delegated power cannot be delegated. This is a basic constitutional and administrative point that cannot be toyed with or wished away.
“Secondly, from the wordings of Executive Order 6, the Attorney-General is merely to ‘coordinate’ among the various agencies of government, the enforcement of the Executive Order and not to issue any order, as was done in this case. The literal interpretation of the order is that, apart from the specific items covered by the schedule to the order, Mr. President is supposed to personally sign each order as it affects each individual or situation; then the Attorney-General will ‘coordinate’ it’s execution.
“So, the Attorney-General cannot exercise avante garde powers, purportedly pursuant to Executive Order 6. What the Attorney-General did in case of the CJN was, and still remains, ultra vires his powers.’
He also faulted the order on another ground saying, under the presidential constitution, powers are allocated to the three arms of government; but the same constitution, in a few provisions, has permitted fusion of powers.
He explained, “That’s why we have heads of court empowered to enact rules of those courts (a sort of legislative duty); the legislature exercising oversight powers, with power to cite for contempt (a sort of judicial duty) and the executive, pursuant to section 315(2) and (4) of the constitution, empowered to issue executive orders.
“The president exercising this quasi-legislative power must not infringe on the constitution. That is why section 315(2) insists that any such quasi-legislative action by the president must be targeted at an existing law, with the view to bringing it ‘in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution.'”
He therefore argued, “Executive Order No. 6 not only falls far short of this constitutional baseline, it has listed court cases affected/covered by it, thereby overthrowing constitutionally-vested judicial powers. The whole order is, in my humble judgment, totally unconstitutional on this wicket alone.
“But, even if it’s constitutional (which is hereby vehemently resisted), the Honourable Attorney-General ought to first obtain a court order before ordering for the freezing of personal bank accounts of Nigerians.
“This is where balancing of powers in a democracy becomes constitutionally imperative. Without this, there will be, as in the case of the CJN, grave infraction on individual and fundamental rights, with a dangerous gravitation towards absolutism and tyranny. The framers of our constitution never intended this result.”
According to him, in deeply tested constitutions, such wanton infractions on private rights in the name of executive orders have been voided by the courts.
He cited one example: in 1935 alone, the US Supreme Court voided five of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Orders, namely Orders 6199, 6204, 6255, 6284 and 6855!
In view of the above, Hon said he was in ferma terra (on firm grounds) that not only was Executive Order 6 unconstitutional, the so called letter signed by Mr. Aikomo on behalf of the Honourable Attorney-General was totally, completely, irredeemably null and void.
Agbakoba Asks Court to Stop Onnoghen’s Arraignment
Meanwhile, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), yesterday added to the suits seeking to stop the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) from going ahead with the arraignment of Onnoghen.
In the suit filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja, Agbakoba is asking the court to quash or set aside in its entirety, all the charges preferred by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), the CCB and the CCT against Onnoghen, on the grounds that they were illegal and unconstitutional.
He also asked the court to immediately mandate the AGF to halt the arraignment of the CJN on the basis of Charge No: CCT/ABJ/01/19 filed at the tribunal.
He stated that since the petition against the CJN was without prior recourse to the National Judicial Council (NJC), it is illegal, unconstitutional, null and void.
In the suit which also the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), CCT and NJC as 2nd to 4th defendants respectively, the learned silk contended that the proposed arraignment of the CJN before CCT without first having prior recourse to the NJC is illegal, wrongful, unconstitutional, null and void.
He further noted that CCB did not give the CJN the opportunity to respond officially and in a written form, to the allegations contained in the petition submitted to it on January 9, 2019, signed by one Chief Dennis Aghanya, who was an aide to President Muhammadu Buhari in the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
The former NBA boss averred that the 1999 Constitution and the Court of Appeal have made elaborate provisions for the discipline of judicial officers which must first begin with NJC.
He stated that the defendants failed to allow Justice Onnoghen adequate time to prepare for his defence in tandem with the principle of fair hearing enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.
Agbakoba said since the NJC has not received any petition against the CJN, all the steps taken to arraign him should be declared illegal.