By Akanimo Sampson
Current moves by the Executive arm of the Federal Government of Nigeria under the care of the re-election seeking President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to stampede the Chief Justice of the country, Justice Walter Onnoghen, out of office for a seeming political reasons, is sparking a troubling concern in the Niger Delta, a key oil and gas region.
A Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators has already warned that they will begin to attack oil facilitiess in the oil-polluted region if President Buhari failed to reverse the harassment of Onnoghen.
Scores of militant groups said they were shocked to learn about the planned arraignment of the CJN over allegations of false asset declaration.
Onnoghen was scheduled to be arraigned this Monday before the Danladi Umar-led three-man panel of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for allegedly failing to declare his assets as stipulated by law.
In view of the circumstance, the federal government has asked him to vacate office over alleged corrupt practices and called for his resignation following an application filed by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for his arraignment and commencement of his trial on a six-count charge levelled against him by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
A civil society group under the name, Anti-corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative (ARDI) had purportedly petitioned the CCB over some alleged illegal transactions discovered in the bank accounts of the CJN.
The letter dated January 7, bore a CCB ‘received’ stamp allegedly from the office of the chairman of the bureau on January 9. Some of the allegations contained in the petition read that the CJN ‘’is the owner of sundry accounts primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself up to August 10, 2016, which was allegedly operated in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials.’’
The group also alleged that Onnoghen made five different cash deposits of $10,000 each on March 8, 2011, into Standard Chartered Bank Account No. 1062650; two separate cash deposits of $5000 each followed by four cash deposits of $10,000 each on June 7, 2011; another set of five separate cash deposits of $10,000 each on June 27, 2011, and four more cash deposits of $10,000 each the following day.
The petition further stated that the harassed chief justice did not declare his assets immediately after taking office. This, it held, was contrary to section 15 (1) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act. He was also accused of violating the constitutional requirements for public servants to declare their assets every four years during their career.
Others include that the CJN’s Code of Conduct Bureau Forms (Form CCB 1) for 2014 and 2016 were dated and filed on the same day and that acknowledgement slips were issued for both of them on December 14, 2016, ‘’at which point Justice Onnoghen has become the Chief Justice of Nigeria.’’
Onnoghen however, assumed office as CJN on March 6, 2017, and not in 2016 as quoted in the petition. He served on acting capacity at the time. The group equally alleged that prior to 2016, Onnoghen appeared ‘’to have suppressed or otherwise concealed the existence of these multiple domiciliary accounts owned by him as well as the substantial cash balances in them.’’
ARDI, in the petition, listed that Onnoghen is the owner of Standard Chartered Bank dollar account No.1062650 with a balance of $391,401.28 as at January 31, 2011; Standard Chartered Bank Euro account 5001062686 with the balance of EURO 49,971 .71 as at January 31, 2011 as well as a Standard Chartered Bank pound sterling account No. 5001062679 with the balance sum of GBP23,409.66 as at February 28, 2011.
The petitioner described as ‘’curious’’, the fact that such domiciliary accounts were not declared in one of the two CCB Forms filed by Onnoghen on the same December 14, 2016.
The group held that the petition has succeeded in establishing suspicious financial and other transactions against the CJN, stressing that the collusion between him and various banks related to “Suspicious Transactions Reporting (STR) and financial transactions not justifiable by his lawful remuneration at all material times.
The issue if not well handled is likely to give rise to a war economy in the Niger Delta. Analysts have been saying that the sabotaging of oil pipelines has grown to an immense industry. A former Country Director of the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas major, Shell, Basil Omiyi once said, those behind oil sabotage don’t do proper jobs so they leave huge oil pollution in the wake of what they do. Because it’s a criminal trade, a lot of arms are imported to protect the trade so that they can fight off government security forces. And of course, it completely destroys all the economy in the region and people won’t want to do anything else if there is such an easy thing to do. Why would they want to go into agriculture or provide a service?
The sabotage of oil pipelines serves as income for those who perform the acts and is used to purchase arms. Arms are a source of power and permit groups to protect a territory and to protect the business they have set up, which leads to continued sabotage and strengthens the phenomenon.
A network of illicit trade functions in the shadow of the formal business. It also has an impact on local power relations and modes of governance. The hereditary authority of customary leaders and elders is undermined at the benefit of young men with guns. The late President Umuru Yar’Adua referred to this phenomenon as ‘’blood oil’’ during a meeting with the G8.
The term is however, an allusion to blood diamonds and the successful international campaign against those.
From 2004 on, violence also hit the oil industry with piracy and kidnappings. In 2009, a Presidential Amnesty Programme accompanied with support and training of ex-militants proved to be a success. Thus until 2011, victims of crimes were fearful of seeking justice for crimes committed against them because of a failure to prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses.
Meanwhile, an online statement issued by the Coalition of militants alleged that Onnoghen was being persecuted because he was from the oil region, adding that the petition was plotted by the Presidency to forcefully remove Onnoghen as the CJN and replace him with a Northerner.
Signed by John Duku of the Niger Delta Watchdogs and Convener, Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators; Ekpo Ekpo of the Niger Delta Volunteers; Simply Benjamin (Bakassi Strike Force); Osarolor Nedam (Niger Delta Warriors); Henry Okon Etete (Niger Delta Peoples Fighters); and Asukwo Henshaw (Bakassi Freedom Fighters).
According to them, ‘’in the first instance, President Muhammadu Buhari was not disposed to Justice Onnoghen’s appointment to this position, which was why he refused to confirm the appointment after so many months of serving in an acting capacity. It was during the period of his sickness while in Britain that the (then) acting President – Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, confirmed the appointment.
‘’We wish to also recall that in August last year, Mr Matthew Seiyefa of Bayelsa State, who was the most senior and most qualified officer at the time was appointed to the position of acting Director-General of the Department of State Services by Prof. Osinbajo, only to be replaced with a retired and junior officer to Seiyefa, Mr Yusuf Bichi, by President Buhari as soon as he resumed duties.
‘’We hereby vehemently resist any attempt to remove the CJN from office. We therefore want to state categorically that if the Presidency failed to reverse its harassment against the CJN, we will have no other option but to mobilise all the Niger Delta fighters and commence serious actions that would shake the country and the whole world.
‘’We shall shut down all the oil wells in the Niger Delta. We call on all the northerners and Yoruba who own oil wells in the Niger Delta to prepare to vacate immediately. We also want to warn our Niger Delta brothers, who are working for Buhari to watch their back and know that we are watching them and their family members. We warn them to stop campaigning for Buhari in the Niger Delta.’’