Walter Onnoghen, the immediate past chief justice of Nigeria, has been barred from travelling out of the country by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Punch on Saturday, December 14, 2019, reports that the move may be part of a fresh probe into Onnoghen’s affairs. Onnoghen was convicted for not declaring his assets by the Code of Conduct Tribunal in April.
An internal report issued by the Nigeria Immigration Service, which was read out to a Punch correspondent by a top officer, stated that Onnoghen, his wife and daughter were attempting to travel to Accra, Ghana when they were accosted by immigration officers.
The report stated, “On November 11, 2019, retired honourable chief justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, was attempting to travel to Accra, Ghana. He was in company with his wife, Nkoyo, and daughter.
“His passport, with number A50445233, was flagged because Justice Onnoghen’s name was on the watch list. The passport is currently in custody of the NIS.”
The senior officer told PUNCH that the passport seized from Onnoghen was not a diplomatic passport but the ordinary green passport.
The immigration officer told our correspondent that the directive to seize Onnoghen’s passport came from the Presidency.
“Onnoghen will have to meet with the Presidency to know why his passport was seized. We are only following instructions,” the officer said.
The newspaper was informed by a top judicial officer that Onnoghen’s decision to challenge his conviction by the CCT might have angered Buhari government.
The Appeal Court had condemned the Buhari government for the manner in which the trial of Onnoghen was conducted.
In a judgment by the three-man bench led by Justice Stephen Adah, it was unanimously ruled that the CCT’s ex parte order breached the ex-CJN’s right to a fair hearing.
While reading the lead judgment, Justice Adah stated that the proceedings of the CCT shouldn’t have been conducted “in a shady or clandestine manoeuvre” the way the ex parte order was obtained by the prosecution.
However, the court said it could not upturn Onnoghen’s conviction since the trial had already taken place.
A source said, “Even though the NJC (National Judicial Council) recommended that Onnoghen should be paid his benefits in full, I can tell you that he has not been paid anything and all his allowances have stopped.
“His accounts remain frozen. It was some judges who even contributed money for him recently for medicals expenses.
“I was told that his ordeal might be connected with his decision to challenge his conviction at the Court of Appeal which the government of the day might have found embarrassing because the Court of Appeal accused them of depriving Onnoghen of a fair hearing.”
Onnoghen, who was CJN from March 1, 2017, to April 5, 2019, was suspended by Buhari in January, a few weeks to the presidential election, on allegations that he failed to declare five bank accounts in his asset declaration form at the Code of Conduct Bureau.
Buhari hinged his decision to suspend Onnoghen on an ex parte order by the CCT chairman, Dannladi Umar.
Onnoghen’s many attempts to stop his trial were futile.
He also faced a mini-trial at the NJC where the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission presented evidence against him.
The NJC subsequently recommended his retirement with full benefits and Onnoghen immediately complied and tendered his resignation before Buhari on April 5, 2019.
However, his resignation letter was not acknowledged by the buhari government until his conviction by the CCT on May 28, 2019.
The CCT ordered Onnoghen’s sacking and barred him from holding public office for 10 years.
It also ordered that the sums of money in different currencies found in his Standard Chartered Bank accounts, a total of N46 million, be forfeited to the Buhari.
It was reported by an online news outlet, The Cable, that a retired CJN is entitled to cash and other perks worth N2.5 billion.
As part of the package for a retired chief justice, a house will be built for him in Abuja with a nine-digit sum for furnishing — in addition to a severance gratuity that is 300 per cent of his annual basic salary of N3,363,972.50, as well as pension for life.