The immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, who was controversially removed from office by Pressident Muhammadu Buhari’s government, has been barred from travelling out of the country, the Nigeria Immigration Service has said, citing order from the presidency.
Mr. Onnoghen was convicted for not declaring his assets by the Code of Conduct Tribunal in April but the court of appeal later unanimously frowned at the manner that trial was conducted, saying the former CJN did not get a fair trial.
An internal report issued by the Nigeria Immigration Service revealed that Onnoghen, his wife and daughter were attempting to travel to Accra, Ghana sometime in November when they were stopped by immigration officers.
The report stated, “On November 11, 2019, retired Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, was attempting to travel to Accra, Ghana. He was in company with his wife, Nkoyo, and daughter.
“His passport, with number A50445233, was flagged because Justice Onnoghen’s name was on the watch list. The passport is currently in custody of the NIS.”
A senior immigration officer told the Punch that the directive to seize Onnoghen’s passport came from the Presidency.
A top judicial officer further told the newspapper that Onnoghen’s decision to challenge his conviction by the CCT might have angered the retired Muhammadu Buhari regime.
The Appeal Court had condemned the Buhari government for the manner in which the trial of Onnoghen was conducted.
In a judgment by the three-man bench led by Justice Stephen Adah, it was unanimously held that the CCT’s ex parte order breached the ex-CJN’s right to a fair hearing.
While reading the lead judgment, Justice Adah said proceedings of the CCT shouldn’t have been conducted “in a shady or clandestine manoeuvre” the way the ex parte order was obtained by the prosecution.
Nut the court held that since it could not upturn Onnoghen’s conviction since the trial had already taken place.
“Even though the NJC (National Judicial Council) recommended that Onnoghen should be paid his benefits in full, I can tell you that he has not been paid anything and all his allowances have stopped.
“His accounts remain frozen. It was some judges who even contributed money for him recently for medicals expenses.
“I was told that his ordeal might be connected with his decision to challenge his conviction at the Court of Appeal which the government of the day might have found embarrassing because the Court of Appeal accused them of depriving Onnoghen of a fair hearing,” a source told the Punch.
Onnoghen, who was CJN from March 1, 2017 to April 5, 2019, was suspended by Buhari in January, a few weeks to the presidential election, on allegations that he failed to declare five bank accounts in his asset declaration form at the Code of Conduct Bureau.
But critics saw Onnoghen as a sacrificial lamb who was taken out merely on political calculations.