The Federal Government has ordered that restrictions be placed on five bank accounts belonging to the embattled Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
The restriction order was contained in a letter with reference number HAGF/2019/E06/Vol.01, by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), dated January 14, 2019 and addressed to the Director, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit.
A top official in the AGF’s office confirmed to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity that the order originated from Malami.
The first national spokesperson for the Coalition of United Political Parties, Imo Ugochinyere, made copies of the letter available to journalists at a press conference in Abuja on Wednesday.
The letter, which was signed by Abiodun Aikomo on behalf of the AGF, asked that normal banking operations be restricted on the CJN’s accounts domiciled in Standard Chartered Bank, pending the final determination of the case against the CJN at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
According to the letter, the directive was given in pursuant to the Presidential Executive Order 6 of 2018.
The letter was titled, “Re: Request for freezing of bank accounts subject to investigation and prosecution pursuant to Presidential Executive Order No. 6 of July 5, 2018 on the preservation of assets connected with corruption.”
It read, “I am directed by Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to request that you, pursuant to the Presidential Executive Order No. 6 of 2018, forthwith restrict normal banking operations on certain accounts belonging to Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen, pending the 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 Nkanu Walter Samuel).
“These accounts are as follows: a. Account No. 5001062686 (euro) Standard Chartered Bank (SCB); b. Account No. 5001062679 (pound sterling) SCB; c. Account No. 0001062650 (dollar) SCB; d. Account No. 0001062667 (naira) SCB; and e. Account No. 5000162693 (naira).”
NBA, CUPP, Agbakoba, Ozekhome, Ashiekaa fault AGF’s order
But the CUPP, the Nigerian Bar Association , a former NBA President, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Chief Edward Ashiekaa (SAN) have faulted the AGF’s directive that the CJN’s accounts be frozen.
Agbakoba, speaking with one of our correspondents on Wednesday, said the AGF could not validly rely on the Presidential Executive Order 6 because the charges the CJN was being tried for were about false assets declaration and not corruption.
He said, “It is not proper for the AGF to issue those directives because he is not being tried on corruption charges. He was charged with false declaration of assets.
“So, for me the AGF has exceeded his power to issue those directives. So I expect that lawyers, of course, will challenge it. The AGF cannot do that.”
In his reaction, Ozekhome said with the AGF’s directive, the nation was heading towards full-blown dictatorship.
He said, “They showed their clear intentions when they filed simultaneously a motion that he should excuse himself as the CJN. Somehow, the plan backfired on the government because of the unanimous public uproar and rejection that greeted it and the tactical move of Onnoghen’s lawyers who refused him appearing physically in court.”
Speaking in the same vein, Ashiekaa noted that the Federal Government’s action was politically motivated.
“You cannot separate what is happening at the CCT from the issue of the freezing of the CJN’s accounts by the AGF. There were claims that the President wasn’t aware. How on earth can you separate these two issues? The order to freeze the accounts was from the AGF who is a SAN and who was supposed to know better.
“He wants to drag the image of the judiciary through the mud because of politics. The judiciary, which is insulated from partisan politics, is now being dragged through the mud,” he added.
Freezing of accounts wrong, says Ananaba
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Paul Ananaba, also faulted the AGF’s directive on the basis that it was not backed by a court order.
He said, “If it is true, it is unfortunate and it is not acceptable. This is because before you freeze somebody’s account, you have to obtain a court order. Is there any order of court? You cannot just freeze an ordinary citizen’s account let alone that of the CJN. He has not even been arraigned.
“He is presumed innocent. Why will you freeze the account of a person that is presumed innocent? And having regard that the Federal High Court has issued an order that he should not be arraigned, why won’t you allow the matter to take its full course. If you want to freeze his account, why won’t an application be made and the order made. It is a dangerous trend.”
Freezing CJN’s accounts without court order is abuse – NBA
Also, the NBA has condemned Malami for the freezing of Onnoghen’s bank accounts without the backing of a court order, saying it is “a complete abuse.”
The NBA President, Mr Paul Usoro (SAN), who said the NBA was going to issue a comprehensive response to the development, expressed this view to one of our correspondents in a telephone chat on Wednesday.
He said, “I am not aware that the AGF has gone to court to obtain a court order for the freezing of the account of the CJN. If he has not obtained the court order permitting him to do it, then it is wrong and it is a complete abuse.”
Meanwhile, Ugochinyere has described the development as another plot by the government of the All Progressives Congress to harm Onnoghen “for refusing to compromise the composition of the post-2019 election Supreme Court Appeal Tribunal.”
Ugochinyere further alleged that efforts to also make Onnoghen compose Supreme Court Appeal Tribunal for the governorship elections in Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Lagos, Benue, Imo, Kwara, Plateau, Kaduna, Abia and Sokoto states with their preferred choices of judges did not succeed.
He added, “The current ordeal of the Honourable CJN will not end soon. He is up against people who are desperate and who do not care if the engine of state grinds to a halt. They have taken this dastardly attack to a new low by freezing all the family assets of the CJN.”
Buhari had no prior knowledge of CJN’s arraignment – Osinbajo
Meanwhile, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo said on Wednesday that President Buhari had no prior knowledge of the CJN’s arraignment.
Osinbajo said this at the 2019 Online Publishers Association of Nigeria conference in Abuja.
He said, “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.
“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’s statement shows Buhari not in charge – Atiku, Fayose
But a former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, and a spokesman for a former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, Mr Phrank Shuaibu, said the claims by Osinbajo that Buhari was not aware of Onnoghen’s trial until Saturday was a confirmation that the President was not in control of his government.
The former governor, in a statement by his media aide, Lere Olayinka, in Ado Ekiti on Wednesday said it was shameful and disgraceful that a Vice-President, who is a senior lawyer, could be telling Nigerians that he and the President were not informed before the CJN was charged to the CCT.
He added, “It should now be clear to Nigerians that President Muhammadu Buhari is not in charge of anything. He might not even be in charge of his existence let alone being conscious of his position as the President of Nigeria.
“Is the Vice-President saying that the Minister of Justice can unilaterally file charges against a high profile government official like the CJN?
“What the Vice-President just told Nigerians is that the government is truly under the firm control of the cabal that the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, said Nigerians should rescue her husband from.
“Therefore, Nigerians should rescue themselves from the hands of the cabal and elect a president that will be in charge of his government.”
Onnoghen should face trial – BMO
However, the Buhari Media Organisation has asked Nigerians to unite and decisively take a stand against corruption, no matter who is involved.
The organisation in a statement signed by its Chairman, Niyi Akinsiju and Secretary, Cassidy Madueke, said, “It is important to remind Nigerians that this CJN is the same person who had, in a statement credited to him, said that wherever Nigerians saw corruption among judges they should call it out. As long as he has nothing to hide then the law should be allowed to take its course, and this should be the mindset of all Nigerians.”