Walter Onnoghen’s resignation as Chief Justice of Nigeria on Friday was greeted with mixed reactions from senior lawyers, the Peoples Democratic Party and the ruling All Progressives Congress.
Onnoghen, who was suspended from office on January 25 by the Federal Government for failing to declare part of his assets, tendered his resignation letter to President Muhammadu Buhari late on Thursday, it was learnt.
Surprisingly, the letter was sent to Buhari barely 24 hours after the National Judicial Council reportedly recommended Onnoghen’s compulsory retirement from service after investigating the allegations of misconduct leveled against him.
Although the suspended CJN’s spokesman, Mr Awassam Bassey, has yet to officially confirm his resignation, two Senior Advocates of Nigeria defending him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal confirmed to one of our correspondents on Friday that Onnoghen had reisgned.
Bassey did not answer calls to his phone by one of our correspondents. He did not also respond to text messages sent to him.
But Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), who is Onnoghen’s lead defend counsel at the CCT, where he is being prosecuted for false and non-declaration of assets, said, “I have just spoken with him. He confirmed to me that he resigned voluntarily yesterday (Thursday). He told me he resigned in the interest of the judiciary.”
According to Awomolo, Onnoghen must have taken the decision following the recommendations of the NJC, which have yet to be made public.
“He took a decision after the NJC which has the power under the Constitution to take a decision, has taken a decision.”
Mr Rafiu Lawal-Rabana (SAN), who led Onnoghen’s defence at the NJC, said although he had yet to speak with his client, he had confirmed that he had voluntarily resigned from office.
“The man has voluntarily retired. Although I have not seen him or spoken with him, it is confirmed that he has voluntarily resigned,” Lawal-Rabana told Saturday PUNCH late on Friday.
Asked if Onnoghen’s resignation had to do with NJC’s recommendations, he said, “No, It does not have to do with it.”
But he said he had “not seen the report by the NJC”.
Lawal-Rabana added, “Up till now we don’t have the report.”
It was learnt that the Federal Government would require two-thirds majority of the Senate to remove Onnoghen from office, according to the Constitution.
However, a Lagos lawyer, Mr Jiti Ogunye, described Onnoghen’s resignation as “appearing to be an afterthought and escapism”.
The Federal Government on January 11, 2019 filed against Onnoghen six counts, including failure to declare his assets between June 2005 and December 14, 2016.
The rest of the five counts bordered on the allegations that the suspended CJN made false declaration of his assets on December 14, 2016 by allegedly omitting to declare his domiciliary dollar, euro and pound sterling accounts as well as his two naira accounts, all maintained with Standard Chatered Bank (Nig.) Ltd.
Onnoghen had pleaded not guilty to the six counts.