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BREAKING: Justice Walter Onnoghen Resigns

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The suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen has resigned with immediate effect.

TheCable reported that” ‘he turned in his resignation letter to President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday evening, a day after the National Judicial Council (NJC) recommended that he be compulsorily retired for misconduct.’

The National Judicial Council, NJC, on Wednesday, said it has forwarded the outcome of its investigation into corruption allegations against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to President Muhammadu Buhari, for action.

The legal body, in a statement that was signed by its Director of Information, Mr. Soji Oye, said it convened an emergency meeting to consider the report of the five-man committee it constituted to investigate allegations of misconduct that were levelled against Justice Onnoghen and the Acting CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad.

However, the NJC, said it decided to refrain from considering the allegation that Justice Onnoghen failed to declare his assets, saying it would amount to subjudice since the matter is in court.

“The National Judicial Council reconvened today in an Emergency Meeting to consider the Report of the Five-Man Committee constituted to investigate the allegations of misconduct made against Hon. Mr. Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, GCON and Hon. Mr. Justice I. T. Muhammad, CFR.

“Council decided that the allegations relating to assets declaration that were levelled against Hon. Mr. Justice W. S. N.Onnoghen, GCON were subjudice and therefore abstained from considering them.

“Council reached a decision on the petitions written by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and others and conveyed its decision to President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR.

“Council also resolved that, by the nature of the decision reached, it would be inappropriate to publicise it before conveying it to Mr. President”, the statement read.

It will be recalled that the NJC had on February 13, said it was satisfied that corruption allegations against the suspended CJN deserved to be investigated.

The Council equally okayed probe of the Acting CJN, Justice Muhammad, on the allegation that he engaged in misconduct by making himself available to be sworn by President Buhari as Onnoghen’s replacement.

Pursuant to Rule 20 (1) of the Judicial Discipline Regulations, the NJC, constituted a five-man investigation panel headed by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice S. A. Akintan, to look into various petitions that were lodged both against Onnoghen and Muhammad.

The legal body directed the Investigation Committee “to work expeditiously, determine all the petitions and responses and report to Council for a final decision”.

Meantime, in his response to the NJC, Onnoghen, queried the competence of two petitions the EFCC lodged against him.

Onnoghen, who was suspended from office by President Buhari on January 25, accused the EFCC of raising “malicious and speculative” allegations against him.

The investigative panel had directed the embattled CJN to respond to corruption allegations the anti-graft agency raised against him.

Specifically, EFCC had in its petitions, alleged that Onnoghen received car and monetary gifts from lawyers, some of whom it said had pending cases in court.

For instance, the agency, said its “intelligence report” had indicated that Onnoghen received a Mercedes Benz Gl 450, valued at N7 million, from a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Mr. Joe Agi.

EFCC said its investigation disclosed that the senior lawyer subsequently appeared in a case that was handled by a Supreme Court panel that included the CJN.

The commission maintained that the car gift was aimed at persuading the suspended CJN to pervert the course of Justice to favour Agi.

Likewise, EFCC, alleged that he collected various monetary gifts from five other SANs, among whom it said included the current President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Paul Usoro.

It gave names of the other lawyers their fund transfers were traced to accounts of the CJN as Mr. Emeka Etiaba, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, Mr. Eze Duru Iheoma and Mr. Ogunsanya Adewunmi.

According to the EFCC, the funds, which ranged between N250,00 and N300,000, were deposited into Onnoghen’s accounts sometimes in 2015, before he eventually became the CJN.

More so, the petitioner alleged that Onnoghen had on different occasions, received huge amount of dollars as estacodes.

It insisted that the estacodes which were handed to him in cash, was above the approved limits.

In a bid to justify its claim that the embattled CJN siphoned public funds under the false pretence that they were estacodes that accrued to him over time, EFCC, told the NJC that Onnoghen had between 2017 and 2018, received a total of N24,169,452 from one Ngozi Nwankwo, who it identified as the Chief Protocol Officer at the Supreme Court.

The agency said it decided to file the petitions before dragging the suspended CJN to court, considering that the NJC is the body with the statutory powers to okay the prosecution of serving judicial officers.

It alleged that funds that were traced to accounts of the Respondent were suspected to be part of proceeds of illegal transactions.

Following NJC’s directive, Justice Onnoghen, in his response to a query that was issued to him, debunked all the allegations, insisting that he was being unnecessarily witch-hunted.

Contrary to EFCC’s allegation, Onnoghen, said he never received any car gift from Mr. Agi, SAN, saying he bought the car from the lawyer who he said had car dealership licence in America.

He noted that Agi had also testified before the NJC panel to the effect that he was duly paid for the car.

He insisted that the car was never a gift to sway him to compromise in the discharge of his judicial duties.

According to Onnoghen, “Mr. Agi, in his appearance as a witness, had informed this Honourable Committee that the car issue happened in 2008 and that His Lordship ordered for the car and paid for it by installments.

“The referenced case was in December 2010. Joe Agi, SAN also stated that the car was neither a bribe nor a gift but was purchased by His Lordship.

“He stated that he was the one that informed the EFCC voluntarily about the car His Lordship bought through his U.S Company which has a car dealership licence in the United States so to illustrate his long standing relationship with His Lordship. Surprisingly, the EFCC then turned around to label it as a bribe.”

Onnoghen maintained that it was not tenable that he could collect a car gift to pervert justice in a case that was decided by a five-man panel of Justices that included the immediate past CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed and the current Acting CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad.

He gave other panel members in the case EFCC claimed that Agi later brought to the apex court, as Justices Francis Fedode Tabai (now retired) and Christopher Michell Chukwumah-Eneh (now late).

“It is thus malicious to link the appearance of Joe Agi, SAN, before the Supreme Court in the above matter to any purported gift to one of the Justices who sat on the Panel,” Onnoghen argued.

Though the CJN admitted that he indeed received monetary gifts from five lawyers, he insisted that it was not a bribe, but a goodwill gesture and an unsolicited support that was extended to him during the wedding ceremony of his first daughter in 2015.

To substantiate his claim, Onnoghen, tendered the wedding invitation card in evidence before the NJC, contending that gifts that followed were part and parcel of the customs and traditions of the people he said judicial officers were by law, allowed to receive.

According to Onnoghen’s defence team, by Rule 13.5(2) of the Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial officers (Published February, 2016), a judicial officer is permitted to accept: “Personal gifts or benefits from relatives or personal friends to such extent and on such occasions as are recognized by custom”.

The CJN argued that linking the gift to cases that were handled by the Supreme Court was baseless since he did not even sit on one of the cited cases.

He gave names of justices that handled the case EFCC referred to in its petition, as Musa Dattijo Muhammad, (presided), Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, Kudirat Motonmori O. Kekere-Ekun, Ejembi Eko, and Sidi Dauda Bage.

More so, Justice Onnoghen noted that whereas the goodwill gesture was extended to his daughter in 2015, the said case was decided by the Supreme Court in 2017.

He further noted that one of the cases in which he was accused of collecting gratification was concluded four years before his daughter’s wedding, even as he gave names of other justices that handled the said case in 2011 as Aloysius Katsina- Alu (then CJN), Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, John Afolabi Fabiyi, Olufunlola O. Adekeye, Suleiman Galadima, and Bode Rhodes Vivour.

He argued that linking the “customary gift” he received from the NBA President, Usoro, SAN, to a member of the Panel of seven Justices, was “in conflict with common sense”.

“Could Paul Usoro, SAN, have given a gift of N300,000 to 7 Supreme Court Justices through one of the Justices in 2015 due to a case he lost before the Supreme Court 4 years earlier?”, Onnoghen’s legal team queried.

Likewise, Onnoghen said he only received estacodes that were due to him, after it was calculated by relevant accounting officials.

He said it was the practice of the apex court for judges to be paid estacodes, stressing that no judge was in the position to determine what should be paid to him, though they sign to collect it in cash.

Onnoghen’s claim was backed by the Director of Finance at the Supreme Court who also testified before the NJC to the effect that it was a regular practice for Justices to collect their estacodes in cash.

The embattled CJN maintained that he did not violate any law, adding that all Justices of the Supreme Court, both serving and retired, were always handed their own estacodes in cash.

Meantime, payment schedules before the NJC had revealed that Onnoghen received between $20,000 and $36,000 for each trip he made between 2017 and 2018.

Onnoghen responded to all the allegations EFCC raised against him, even though he noted that the petitions were not based on any direct complaint that was filed against him by anybody with respect to the discharge of his judicial functions.

He contended that the NJC has the mandate to look into allegations of misconduct levelled against judicial officers, and not to investigate alleged crime that was based on “intelligence report”.

Consequently, he urged the legal body to dismiss the petitions as grossly incompetent and for lacking in merit and substance.

Onnoghen is currently facing a six-count non-declaration of assets charge the Federal Government entered against him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, in Abuja.

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Inside Nigeria

Reports Of 350 Military Personnel Quitting Is Boko Haram Propaganda, Says CFAF

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A group dedicated to fact-checking security issues in Nigeria, Central Force Against Fakenews (CFAF) has dismissed reports alleging that 350 personnel are leaving the Nigerian Armed Forces.

According to CFAF’s President, Aminu Bisku, the group, with the aid of modern tools on information fact checks, has been able to establish that the report was sponsored by terrorist organisations operating in the Northeast to weaken Nigerian troops who in the last three months put them under intense heat.

CFAF added that the logic behind the information cannot even stand the slightest scrutiny as it does not appeal to common sense.

The report which was carried on an online medium claimed that 350 military personnel wanted to pull out from the force citing ‘loss of interest’ in the job as the major reason.

However, in reaction, Bisku rubbished the claim as a deliberate fabrication by terrorist organisations operating in the Northeast of Nigeria, to dampen the morale of fighting troops.

CFAF President said all the claims in the story can be punctured due to a number of reasons, chiefly among, he added is that 350 persons cannot all cite the same reason for leaving an organization.

“People leave organisations for different reasons people view developments differently, but it is almost impossible for hundreds of people to want to leave an organisation for the same reason,” he said.

Bisku said for such to happen then all the 350 personnel must have been put in a classroom and tutored how to write their retirement letters.

“This is the only way 350 independent-minded persons can arrive at the same conclusion on an issue at the same time,” he stressed.

Secondly, the group added that the roundness in the figure does not conform to reality.

Bisku explained that propaganda pieces as they relate to claims in figures are easily punctured by the recourse to have an eye-catching sun, whereas real-life spontaneous reactions such as resignations hardly conform to any pattern that would comfortably fall in a round pattern.

His words, “Remember the 350 were not said to have been shortlisted for retirement but were said to have acted on their own, so it would have been difficult to arrive at a round figure as the one in the report.

“It would have been believable if they had said 218 or 341 or any such accidental figures but for a voluntary independent action to stop at a round figure of 350! you know that some people are trying to be mischievous. And because the sponsors of the story have a mindset, that was how they came up with a round figure of 350.”

CFAF also said it is not a coincidence that such propaganda would be released at exactly the same time when the insurgents are being killed in large numbers.

“The timing of the report should make you wonder. Why is it coming at a time when the insurgents are under heat?

“If our troops did not resign when they were going into tactical withdrawal and running to other countries, it would be stupid for anyone to believe that they would resign now that the heat is against the terrorists,” the group stated.

The CFAF further revealed that it is aware that in the last three months, the military killed nearly 2,000 insurgents in both the Northeast and Northwest regions and the Sevice Chiefs have been at the theatres of operation which represents the highest form of confidence-building to the troops.

“So for anybody to tell you that it is within such a time that our gallant personnel would be leaving is the highest form of deceit,” he added.

CFAF also said the much that has been worked out to improve the welfare of military personnel in the last four years has been the best so far, contemplating leaving service at such a time would be considered ill-advised

According to the CFAF president, within the last four years, the military acquired modern sophisticated weapons that made troops battle-ready and excited to go to the battlefield

The group says it is because of such motivation that last year, over a hundred thousand persons applied to join the army out of which 5,000 soldiers were recruited to strengthen the fight against insecurity in the country.

Bisku said this year also, another round of recruitment exercise is going on where more youths would be recruited to beef up the number of fighting men.

“What is happening is that the insurgents have seen that they are losing the fight at the battlefield but want to use the media to send out damaging reports about the military so as to weaken the troops psychologically.

“But the military hierarchy which always steps ahead of these criminals is well aware of this scheme and is not in any way bothered about it.

“If anything, troops are now more confident to go on operations and route out these enemies of the Nigerian State and have even laughed at the idea that any of them would be leaving at this time.”

The group, however, advised media platforms to always cross-check their facts before going to press with issues that have to do with the security of the nation so as not to play into the wrong hands.

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356 Soldiers Apply For Voluntary Disengagement, Over “Loss Of Interest” In The Nigerian Army

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Atleast 356 soldiers have reportedly applied for voluntary retirement citing loss of interest in the Nigerian Army.

Many of the soldiers are among the troops engaged in the decade-long war against Boko Haram in the Northeast, while others are from various other formations across the country.

But apart from the 356 who are leaving for losing interest in the army, 24 others are exiting because they want “to take traditional title,” making a total of 380 soldiers, including two Master Warrant Officers and 28 Warrant Officers, voluntarily discharging from the army, according to sources with direct knowledge of the development.

A document written by Gagariga on behalf of Buratai state’s that the soldiers’ disengagement date will take effect from January 3, 2021.

The document reads;

“In compliance with the provisions of Reference A, the COAS vide Reference B has approved the voluntary and medical discharge of the above named MWO, and 385 others listed as Annexes A and B.

“The soldiers are to proceed on terminal leave December 3, 2020, while their disengagement date takes effect from January 3, 2021, in accordance with the Nigerian Army Administrative Policy and Procedures No 27 Paragraphs 3 and 4. Accordingly, I am directed to request formations and units to release all affected soldiers to report at the Headquarters, Garrison, with their unit service documents for documentation.

“All forms of military-controlled items, arms, ammunition, and items of combat kits are recovered from the soldiers prior to their disengagement date and certify that they are properly de-kitted. Please acknowledge.”

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We Used ₦1.5 Billion To Take Care Of Ourselves As COVID-19 Palliative — NDDC MD

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The sum of N1.5bn was used as COVID-19 relief fund for staff of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Kemebradikumo Pondei, Acting Managing Director of the commission, said.

Pondei disclosed this at the investigative hearing on the N40bn corruption allegation against the commission.

The Senate had on May 5 set up a seven-man ad-hoc committee to investigate the financial recklessness of the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC.

The MD and other delegates from the commission appeared before the committee on Thursday for the hearing.

The lawmakers raised concerns over the spending at the NDDC, noting that the commission spent N40bn last three months without due process.

However, Pondei when giving account of how money was spent, said staff of the agency had to be catered for, too.

He said, “We used it (N1.5bn) to take care of ourselves. We are NDDC, we need to take care of ourselves too.”

Part of the audit report read out by the Chairman of the committee, Olubunmi Adetunmbi, said N3.1bn was spent as COVID-19 funds between October 2019 and May 2020.

In the report, the lawmaker said, “N10m was paid to one person, N7m to two people, N5m to three people, 148 people took N3m each, 157 people got N1.5m each, 497 people got N1m each and 464 people were paid N600,000 each.”

Another N475m was given to the police to purchase face masks and hand sanitisers, he added.

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