The Federal Government has ordered that restrictions be placed on five bank accounts belonging to the embattled Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
The restriction order was contained in a letter with reference number HAGF/2019/E06/Vol.01, by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), dated January 14, 2019 and addressed to the Director, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit.
A top official in the AGF’s office confirmed to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity that the order originated from Malami.
The first national spokesperson for the Coalition of United Political Parties, Imo Ugochinyere, made copies of the letter available to journalists at a press conference in Abuja on Wednesday.
The letter, which was signed by Abiodun Aikomo on behalf of the AGF, asked that normal banking operations be restricted on the CJN’s accounts domiciled in Standard Chartered Bank, pending the final determination of the case against the CJN at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
According to the letter, the directive was given in pursuant to the Presidential Executive Order 6 of 2018.
The letter was titled, “Re: Request for freezing of bank accounts subject to investigation and prosecution pursuant to Presidential Executive Order No. 6 of July 5, 2018 on the preservation of assets connected with corruption.”
It read, “I am directed by Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to request that you, pursuant to the Presidential Executive Order No. 6 of 2018, forthwith restrict normal banking operations on certain accounts belonging to Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen, pending the final determination of the case against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT/ABJ/1/19 – Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Hon. Justice Onnoghen Nkanu Walter Samuel).
“These accounts are as follows: a. Account No. 5001062686 (euro) Standard Chartered Bank (SCB); b. Account No. 5001062679 (pound sterling) SCB; c. Account No. 0001062650 (dollar) SCB; d. Account No. 0001062667 (naira) SCB; and e. Account No. 5000162693 (naira).”
NBA, CUPP, Agbakoba, Ozekhome, Ashiekaa fault AGF’s order
But the CUPP, the Nigerian Bar Association, a former NBA President, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Chief Edward Ashiekaa (SAN) have faulted the AGF’s directive that the CJN’s accounts be frozen.
Agbakoba, speaking with one of our correspondents on Wednesday, said the AGF could not validly rely on the Presidential Executive Order 6 because the charges the CJN was being tried for were about false assets declaration and not corruption.
He said, “It is not proper for the AGF to issue those directives because he is not being tried on corruption charges. He was charged with false declaration of assets.
“So, for me the AGF has exceeded his power to issue those directives. So I expect that lawyers, of course, will challenge it. The AGF cannot do that.”
In his reaction, Ozekhome said with the AGF’s directive, the nation was heading towards full-blown dictatorship.
He said, “They showed their clear intentions when they filed simultaneously a motion that he should excuse himself as the CJN. Somehow, the plan backfired on the government because of the unanimous public uproar and rejection that greeted it and the tactical move of Onnoghen’s lawyers who refused him appearing physically in court.”
Speaking in the same vein, Ashiekaa noted that the Federal Government’s action was politically motivated.
“You cannot separate what is happening at the CCT from the issue of the freezing of the CJN’s accounts by the AGF. There were claims that the President wasn’t aware. How on earth can you separate these two issues? The order to freeze the accounts was from the AGF who is a SAN and who was supposed to know better.
“He wants to drag the image of the judiciary through the mud because of politics. The judiciary, which is insulated from partisan politics, is now being dragged through the mud,” he added.
Freezing of accounts wrong, says Ananaba
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Paul Ananaba, also faulted the AGF’s directive on the basis that it was not backed by a court order.
He said, “If it is true, it is unfortunate and it is not acceptable. This is because before you freeze somebody’s account, you have to obtain a court order. Is there any order of court? You cannot just freeze an ordinary citizen’s account let alone that of the CJN. He has not even been arraigned.
“He is presumed innocent. Why will you freeze the account of a person that is presumed innocent? And having regard that the Federal High Court has issued an order that he should not be arraigned, why won’t you allow the matter to take its full course. If you want to freeze his account, why won’t an application be made and the order made. It is a dangerous trend.”
Freezing CJN’s accounts without court order is abuse – NBA
Also, the NBA has condemned Malami for the freezing of Onnoghen’s bank accounts without the backing of a court order, saying it is “a complete abuse.”