Nigeria’s ethics court finds top judge guilty of graft

Abuja: An ethics court found Nigeria’s former chief justice guilty of corruption Thursday and banned him from office for 10 years in a case the opposition said was politically motivated.

Walter Onnoghen was suspended from his post as the country’s top judge by President Muhammadu Buhari just weeks before elections in February, prompting outrage and claims Buhari was trying to manipulate the judiciary.

A request to remove the chief justice normally has to be approved with a two-thirds majority of the Senate, but the head of state did not follow that process.

Onnoghen was tried for allegedly failing to divulge cash in five foreign bank accounts in contravention of rules governing the declaration of assets by public officials.

“The defendant has clearly contravened the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, and he is hereby convicted,” said Danladi Umar, chairman of the country’s ethics court, the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which rules on cases involving public officials.

“The defendant is hereby banned from holding office for 10 years,” Umar added.

Umar ordered that any cash found in Onnoghen’s foreign bank accounts be taken by the treasury.

“The money in the five accounts which the defendant has failed to declare and disclose its source, is hereby confiscated, seized and forfeited to the federal government,” Umar said.

Onnoghen, who resigned from his post this month, did not respond when asked if he wanted to submit a plea for clemency. “No comment,” he said.

The tribunal said Onnoghen had not provided the necessary documents to show how he had acquired the cash.

As head of the Supreme Court, Onnoghen could have ruled on any disputes relating to the election, which saw Buhari, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), win a second term of office.

Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who lost to Buhari, has launched a legal challenge to the result, after calling the election a “sham”.