A former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, has broken his silence on why he was removed by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Onnoghen, who was accused of failing to declare his assets and operating foreign accounts, was suspended weeks before the 2019 general elections.
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He was subsequently convicted by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and barred from holding public office for 10 years.
Onnoghen’s removal had generated an uproar at the time as some persons said it had a political undertone.
But justifying his action when he hosted some Southern leaders at Aso Rock, Buhari had said, “Some of them swear to the Almighty God that their property doesn’t belong to them until we show them their bank accounts and their companies, right then we have some peace.
“Anybody who cannot account for what he has and for refusing to declare, we will have to do something about it. I will tell you Afenifere leaders that that was why I had to deal, though reluctantly, with the former Chief Justice of Nigeria because there were millions of dollars, euros not to talk of naira which were not declared.
“I wonder what sort of conscience some of us have. How can you seat and preside and lock people up for years and even sentence some to death and yet you are not doing what the constitution says you should do by occupying that vital institution?”
However, speaking at the book launch of Ogwu Onoja, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), in Abuja on Friday, Onnoghen said he was never confronted with any of the allegations before he was suspended.
‘I wasn’t given a chance to defend myself’
He said after the allegation of meeting with Atiku, he was removed from office without given the chance to defend himself.
“There were rumours that I met with Atiku in Dubai. But as I am talking here today, I have never met Atiku one on one in my life. As if that was not enough, I was also accused of setting free, some high-profile criminals, whereas I ceased to be a high court judge as far back as 1978,” he said.
“In supreme court, I did not sit alone, we sat in panel. In all these rumours and outright accusations, I was not given the opportunity to defend myself.
“Let me make it clear that the office of the CJN was not for Onnoghen, but for all Nigerians who swore to guide and protect the constitution of the federal republic.
“As I have said severally, judicial officers must be courageous. And I want to beg all serving judicial officers not to be discouraged by what happened to me in the hand of the executive arm of the government.
“Let me sound this note of warning that the appointment of judicial officers must never be allowed to be politicised, otherwise, democracy and democratic governance will be dead.
“During my tenure, the problem of Nigeria was not the Nigerian judiciary, but those who had no regard for the rule of law. We must therefore be committed to the rule of law and dispense justice without fear or favour. Truth stands. Crush it, it will still stand because it is truth.”