Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, GCON (born 22 December 1951) was the former Chief Justice of Nigeria. Before joining the Supreme Court, he was a judge in Cross River State and a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
In February 2016, Justice Onnoghen led a seven-man panel of Justices of the Apex Court who reviewed and upheld the death sentence of Chukwuemeka Ezeeugu (aka Rev. King) of the Christian Praying Assembly. Justice Onnoghen played a huge role in 2007 election which saw the late Umaru Yar’Adua as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He had a minority judgement that annulled the presidential election.
After being nominated as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria by the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, he was confirmed by the Senate on 1 March 2017, and sworn in on 7 March 2017.
Onnoghen trials started when a petition was filed by a civil rights group Anti-Corruption and Research – Based Data Initiative (ARDI) at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). The petitioner alleged that Justice Onnoghen owns “sundry accounts primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself which appear to have been run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the Code of Conduct for public officials”. The petitioner stated that Justice Onnoghen did not declare his accounts as required by law.
The Federal Government filed a six-count charge against Justice Walter Onnoghen for alleged failure to declare some of his assets, including about $3million. The $3million was said to be lodged in 5 bank accounts.
The domiciliary and Naira accounts in the Standard Chartered Bank are USD account No: 870001062650, Euro Account No: 93001062686, Pounds Sterling Account No: 285001062679, e-saver savings (Naira) account No: 5001062693, and a Naira Account No: 010001062667.
A CCB investigator, Mr. James Akpala, said in an affidavit in support of the charges against Justice Onnoghen, that the filing of the case stemmed from a petition against the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Akpala did not give the name of the petitioner.
The petition alleged that Justice Onnoghen made five cash deposits of $10,000 each on March 8, 2011 into Standard Chartered Bank Account No: 1062650, two separate cash deposits of $5,000 each and four deposits of $10,000 on June 7, 2011
According to the petition, Justice Onnoghen failed to declare his assets immediately after office, contrary to section 15(1) of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act. And that he did not comply with the constitutional requirements for public servants to declare their assets every four years during their career. The petition also stated that the Chief Justice of Nigeria financial transaction appeared suspicious and not justifiable by his lawful remuneration at all material times.
The trial commenced January 14,2019 at Code of Conduct Tribunal chaired by Danladi Umar in which Justice Onnoghen was absent. It was then adjourned to the following week, the next hearing was January 22, 2019, but he failed to show up again. CCT Chairman issued a warrant of arrest against Justice Onnoghen should he fail to appear in the next hearing. Justice Onnoghen appeared at the next hearing where he pleaded not guilty to the six-count charge read to him.
President Buhari suspended Justice Onnoghen from office on 26 February 2019 and appointed Tanko Ibrahim as acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Justice Onnoghen employed the services of 51 Senior Advocate of Nigeria led by Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Adeboyega Awomolo(SAN), Chris Uche (SAN) and Okon Nkanu (SAN).
The Prosecution team was led by Aliyu Umar (SAN), a former Attorney General of Kano State.
The defense counsel argued that the CCT lacks the jurisdiction to try the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Also, the CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar lacks the power to hear the case. The defense counsel in their submission asked the chairman to excuse himself from hearing the case in order to avoid judicial rascality.
Four witnesses were subpoenaed namely: James Aklapla – CCB Investigator; Alhaji Awal Yakassai – retired CCB director; Ifeoma Okagbue – Standard Chartered Bank staff and Lawal Busari – Justice Onnoghen driver. Exhibits were tendered in court.
The CCT Chairman, Danladi Umar adjourned hearing to April 18, 2019 for ruling and substantive judgement.
The CCT Chairman ruled that the CCT has the constitutional jurisdiction to hear the case. He also, has the constitutional powers to try Justice Onnoghen.
On conviction, Justice Onnoghen was removed as Chief Justice of Nigeria. He is also removed as the chairman of the Nigeria Judicial Council. Justice Onnoghen is banned from any public office for the next ten years. The monies in the five bank accounts were seized and confiscated to the Federal Government because he could not explain the source of the money.
The CCT Chairman asked the Defense counsel and Justice Onnoghen if they have any comment. They replied no comment.