The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, continued his battle for survival yesterday, hinting at agriculture as the source of his wealth with a petition to the acting Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, over alleged threat to the lives of workers on his farm in Masaka, Nasarawa State.
Onnoghen was suspended a couple of weeks ago by President Muhammadu Buhari and has a February 13 date with the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), where he is being arraigned for alleged asset declaration offences.
He has, however, asked the CCT Chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar, to stand down from the panel of three on the grounds of likelihood of bias.
In an apparent bid to force the CJN out of office, the federal government had acted speedily on a petition by a non-governmental organisation alleging that the apex court justice had failed to declare his assets fully, complaining that he failed to disclose some domiciliary accounts habouring huge forex.
Few days later, the media was awash with details of the said hidden accounts with insinuation that the hefty cash could be proceed of illicit transactions.
In a nationwide broadcast, the president complained that while he was being upbraided for unlawfully suspending the CJN, no one was talking about the funds found in Onnoghen’s account.
Analysts said yesterday that Onnoghen’s petition complaining about ‘herdsmen’ attack on his farm, might be his strategy of explaining the source of his wealth already being assailed by the federal government.
Under the 1999 Constitution as altered, public officers are allowed to engage in farming.
In the petition dated February 2 and filed February 4, his counsel, Mr. Ogwu Onoja, SAN, said his client, the CJN informed him that “some men who appeared to be herdsmen were at the farm yesterday afternoon and also later at night, inquiring about the owner of the farm and issued frightening threats to the farmers.
Onoja stated that the workers are now living in dreadful fear and have consequently stopped all farming activities.
According to Onoja, the farm, which belongs to the family of Onnoghen, is a large commercial venture that provides employment to a large number of people who live on the farm and tend to the commercial poultry, piggery, livestock as well as cash and food crops on the farm.
While the petitioner said the threat of the herders was being considered as an indication of imminent attack on the lives and property on the farm, he called on the IG and police to urgently move in and forestall any possible destruction of lives and property at the farm.
He said in part: “We implore you, in the discharge of your constitutional duty as the Chief Police Officer of the nation, to deploy your men to secure the farm to avoid a breakdown of law and order, the possible unleashing of mayhem on the workers, destruction of the farm, including the property thereon and the disruption of ongoing farming activities particularly in this season of harvest.
“We also call for a thorough, exhaustive and stringent investigation into this matter so as to unearth the identities of the persons behind this menace.
“We trust that you will use your good offices to quash this impending threat and help restore confidence of the people in the farm and its immediate environ.”
Meanwhile, the CJN has asked the Chairman of the CCT, Umar, to disqualify himself from handling his case of alleged failure to declare his assets pending at the tribunal.
The federal government is seeking to prosecute Onnoghen on a six-count charge bordering on failure to declare his assets.
Following a petition filed against Onnoghen by a non-governmental group on January 9 at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), the bureau accordingly approached the tribunal for the prosecution of Onnoghen.
Responding, the tribunal fixed January 14 for arraignment of the defendant, who though did not appear in court over improper service of the charge by the tribunal. However, he challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the case.
In the motion on notice dated February 4 and filed on his behalf by his lawyer, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, the applicant submitted that going by the manner the tribunal chairman has conducted himself so far, he is not sure of getting a fair trial at the tribunal.
He added that comments and behaviour of the chairman were enough proof that he is acting a prepared script with the aim to convict the defendant to the pleasure of his ‘paymaster.’
The motion on notice, which is brought pursuant to rule 12 (1) and (1A) of the revised code of conduct for judicial officers of Nigeria, 2016 under the inherent jurisdiction of the tribunal is seeking an order of the tribunal for the chairman of the tribunal, Umar to disqualify/recuse himself from further participating in the adjudication of the case on the grounds of real likelihood of bias.
The application is predicated on the grounds that the chairman constructively convicted the defendant sought to be arraigned before him without either hearing from him or being formally arraigned before him.
Another ground is that the CCT chairman authored and signed an exparte order directing Onnoghen to step aside as CJN, even when he has not been convicted of wrongdoing, on account of a charge not yet before the tribunal and the defendant was yet to take his plea.
In further support of his claims of bias against the CCT chairman, the applicant noted that Umar had on January 23, entertained a motion exparte that was not moved by any known prosecutor bearing the same title, charge number as that of the defendant dated January 9, which he said substantially predetermined the guilt of the defendant without an arraignment.
The applicant also stated that Umar in the course of presiding over the case showed acts of partisanship by making decisions and orders as well as expressing opinions that were antagonistic to the applicant.
He submitted that going by the forgoing, the applicant has no confidence in the tribunal chairman to do justice fairly between parties in the suit, “as he is a man on a mission to please his masters.”