The Presidency has yet to confirm the resignation of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, even as the news gathers momentum.
It was reported that Onnoghen’s resignation letter was submitted to the Chief of Staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari, by some Justices of the apex court.
The Justices arrived at the presidential villa few minutes after President Muhammadu Buhari left Abuja for Jordan to participate in the World Economic Forum (WEF).
A presidency source confirmed to NAN that President Buhari had on Thursday, before his departure to Jordan, received the National Judicial Council’s recommendations on the petitions written against Onnoghen, and the acting CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad.
The report was submitted to the president by his Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, who was accompanied by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubalar Malami, at about 2.20pm on the fateful day.
The Director, Information, NJC, Mr Soji Oye, had Wednesday in a statement confirmed that the council had sent its report to President Buhari after the conclusion of its investigation into the petitions written against Onnoghen and the acting CJN.
All efforts to speak to presidential spokesmen, Mr Femi Adesina and Mallam Garba Shehu, on the matter proved abortive as the duo were outside the country on official and private engagements.
NAN reports that Adesina is currently on President Buhari’s entourage to Jordan while Shehu is believed to be in Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage.
By virtue of section 306 of the 1999 constitution, Onnoghen’s resignation is expected to be with immediate effect.
Section 306 says “(1) Save as otherwise provided in this section, any person who is appointed, elected or otherwise selected to any office established by this Constitution may resign from that office by writing under his hand addressed to the authority or person by whom he was appointed, elected or selected. (2) The resignation of any person from any office established by this Constitution shall take effect when the writing signifying the resignation is received by the authority or person to whom it is addressed or by any person authorised by that authority or person to receive it.”
The resignation will save Buhari from having to get two-thirds majority of the senate to confirm Onnoghen’s retirement as stipulated in Section 292 (1) of the 1999 constitution.
The section says a “judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances – (a) in the case of – (i) Chief Justice of Nigeria… by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.”
Meanwhile, Onnoghen’s retirement benefits will cost tax payers about 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% of his annual basic salary of N3,363,972.50, as well as pension for life.
Just like state governors, a retired chief justice is entitled to a number of domestic staff and sundry allowances for personal upkeep.
Onnoghen, who is 68, was due for retirement in 2020.
Onnoghen is currently undergoing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over charges of false asset declaration.
He has closed his defence at the CCT and the tribunal is expected to give its judgment at the next sitting on April 15.
Despite his resignation, Onnoghen could be banned from holding public office for 10 years, while his assets believed to have been acquired illegitimately will be confiscated, if the CCT case is resolved against him.
With the latest development, it is not known if the EFCC will still proceed to file criminal charges against him.