Onnoghen’s Negotiated Resignation Awaits President Buhari’s Next Step

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Walter Onnoghen,
Walter Onnoghen
By Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Alex Enumah in Abuja
With the resignation of suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, done and dusted, following the submission of his letter on Thursday, all the stakeholders in the long-winding drama are now awaiting the arrival of President Muhammadu Buhari for his seal on the deal, which sources confirmed to THISDAY, was “negotiated.”
President Buhari is attending the World Economic Forum holding in Jordan and the Investment Summit scheduled to hold in Dubai. He is expected back in the country on Tuesday.
Onnoghen is currently being prosecuted by the federal government on a six count charge bordering on alleged failure to declare some of his assets in line with the provisions of the law for public officers. He was specifically accused of not declaring five of his accounts in Standard Chartered Bank located in Wuse Abuja.
Sources said key stakeholders negotiated a soft landing for the suspended CJN “to ensure that the Judiciary is not bruised.”
This, the source said, also resulted in the NJC recommending his compulsory retirement instead of a dismissal demanded by the Presidency.
The option of voluntary resignation by Onnoghen was also put forward by the stakeholders, which the suspended CJN quickly accepted.
“All the stakeholders are waiting for the arrival of the President to seal the deal. They are very hopeful that he would respond positively. They expect Buhari to either accept Onnoghen’s resignation or approve the compulsory retirement recommended by the NJC. Either is a soft landing for Onnoghen,” said another sources last night.
A member of Onnoghen’s legal team, who spoke to THISDAY yesterday afternoon on condition of anonymity, said: “The CJN has tendered his resignation letter. I spoke to him earlier today. I can confirm to you that he has resigned. But I don’t have his approval to formally speak to the press. Yes, he has resigned. He sent his letter to the President through the NJC.”
However, the Director of Information, NJC, Soji Oye in a telephone conversation with THISDAY said he could not confirm the report  of Onnoghen’s resignation.
Similarly, the Director of Information, Supreme Court of Nigeria, Festus Akande, told THISDAY that he was not aware of the resignation of the CJN, and dismissed it as mere rumour.
“As at the time I left the office yesterday, there was nothing like that. And I have called the office after the news broke, there is nothing like that”, Akande said.
The Code of Conduct Tribunal where Onnoghen is being prosecuted on the non-asset declaration charges had on April 3, adjourned till April 15 for parties to adopt their final written addresses as well as to fix a date for Judgment and ruling on other pending applications.
Onnoghen was suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 25, 2019, 10 days after his trial commenced at the CCT, on the orders of the CCT.
The suspension order was sequel to an exparte application by the federal government, which prayed the CCT to suspend Onnoghen pending the determination of the trial.
The Chairman of the CCT, Danladi Umar, in granting the exparte motion also ordered President Buhari to swear in the most senior to Onnoghen in the Supreme Court, Justice Tanko Muhammad as Acting CJN.
If his resignation is confirmed officially, by virtue of section 306 of the 1999 constitution, it will take immediate effect.
Section 306 (1)  stipulates: “Save as otherwise provided in this section, any person who is appointed, elected or otherwise selected to any office established by this Constitution may resign from that office by writing under his hand addressed to the authority or person by whom he was appointed, elected or selected. (2) The resignation of any person from any office established by this Constitution shall take effect when the writing signifying the resignation is received by the authority or person to whom it is addressed or by any person authorised by that authority or person to receive it.”

APC: Buhari Has Been Vindicated

Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has said that the resignation of Onneghen was a clear indication that his suspension by President Buhari was not a witchhunt.
The party also said that the development has proved it right that the allegations against the CJN were not cooked up and that they were indeed very serious and warranted the action of the President.
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Lanre Isa-Onilu, who spoke to journalists yesterday said that the party rose in the defense of the President because it knew that he meant well and that the real purpose that drives his actions was national interest.
“Now, events have proven the President right. Events have proven the party, APC right. Events have proven those Nigerians who believe Nigeria first and any other things after – events have proven them right,” he said.
Onilu said that when the issue first came up, the opposition especially PDP and some of their allies on the Civil Societies, cried foul, impugning political motive without properly interrogating the allegation.
Onilu said: “We all can only be hiding behind one finger, otherwise we knew Nigerians, reasonable Nigerians knew from the word ‘cooked’ that those allegations were not cooked up and if they were real, the next thing for the CJN to have done was to have stepped aside and the question of, he wouldn’t be the only one, why him? There is nowhere in the world where judgment is passed on every sinner at once.
“It is not every armed robber you can catch the same day. And even some you know, the slow will of justice may not catch up with them immediately but we must continue to see evidence that we are moving towards that sanity that we are making progressive efforts and sending strong signals to people who think this country must continue as long as they are comfortable and the rest of Nigerians are suffering. We must send that signal to them. It is not going to be business as usual”.
He said the lesson to be learnt from the travails of the former CJN is that no one, no matter how highly placed is above the law, adding even if the president misbehaves, he should be ready to face the law.
“Now, you have seen the head of National Assembly, Senate President, you have seen him in the dock. Now, you have seen the CJN in the dock. So, one day, we will see a President that will also misbehave in the dock which now shows that nobody is above the law of this country, that we are all equal before the law.
“So, anybody who finds himself in any position, should now begin to look closely at his own actions knowing fully well that today may protect him but tomorrow may expose him,” he said.