A 20-man group of aged Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) under the aegis of the Justice Reform Project (JRP) on Tuesday said Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen’s resignation is not enough in view of “the grave nature of the allegations” against him.
The group said justice should run its course in the Onnoghen matter, and also urged the Nigerian Government to sanction other judges whose legitimate earnings are not commensurate with their wealth,
According to JRP, extending the anti-graft exercise to other judges will restore confidence in the Judiciary and debunk the impression that the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) was being victimised.
The group, set up to push for reforms in the judiciary/legal profession, is led by one of the oldest SANs, Ebun Sofunde, with Jibrin Okutepa, Dr Babatunde Ajibade, Prof Ernest Ojukwu, Osaro Eghobamien, Mrs. Funke Adekoya, Kayode Sofola, among others, as members.
In a statement, JRP said it noted Onnoghen’s resignation “with concern”, but added that the matter should not end there.
The group said “his resignation/voluntary retirement is not an answer to these allegations”, adding that it expects that justice, which is no respecter of persons or position, will be allowed to take its course”.
JRP urged the Federal Government to look beyond Onnoghen for three reason main reasons.
It said: “Beyond Honourable Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, however, the JRP believes the revelations that have been made in the course of this affair necessitate that urgent steps be taken to identify and sanction all other Nigerian judicial officers who are found to possess inexplicable wealth that cannot be reconciled with their legitimate income or their asset declarations, two of the allegations made against Justice Onnoghen.
“These steps are necessary for a variety of reasons. First, to restore public confidence in the judiciary and disabuse the notion that all judicial officers in Nigeria are corrupt and that justice is for sale.
“Second, to disabuse the notion that Justice Onnoghen’s travails are a mere witch-hunt motivated by ethnic and political interests rather than the result of a genuine concern for sanitising and reforming the Nigerian judiciary.
“Third, to eliminate the suspicion that the Executive arm of government is using the information it has access to by virtue of its control over the apparatus of the state to take selective action only against those judicial officers that fail to do its bidding.”
Besides, the group said Onnoghen’s response to allegations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) before the National Judicial Council (NJC) raises significant questions about how heads of courts manage judiciary’s funds.
“Without prejudice to the legitimate clamour for increased budgetary allocation to the judiciary, its financial independence and improvement in the working conditions of service of judicial officers, all of which JRP wholeheartedly supports, there must be better management of that which is currently allocated.
“The JRP calls on everyone with a stake in our judicial system (the public, the Bar, and the bench), to report their concerns, if any, to the relevant regulatory agencies so that they are investigated.
“The legal profession is a self-regulating one, so it behooves all its members to take an active interest in maintaining the standards of rectitude and integrity expected of judicial officers and legal practitioners.
“In making this call, the JRP merely exhorts every member of the legal profession to act as they are expected to act. If the profession does not regulate itself effectively, incidents such as those involving Justice Onnoghen will remain a fixture in our judicial system.”
On Thursday, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) will give judgement in the trial of Onnoghen for a six-count charge of fraudulent declaration of assets.