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Suspended Nigeria Chief Judge ordered to respond to corruption allegation3 minutes read

The Nigerian government has been accused of circumventing constitutional provisions for the discipline of judges

Kathleen Ndongmo

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Photo - AFP

A constitutional body saddled with powers to discipline erring judges in Nigeria has asked the country’s suspended chief judge, Justice Walter Onnoghen to reply allegations of corruption against him in seven days.

The National Judicial Council or NJC, after an emergency meeting in Abuja on Tuesday, also urged acting chief judge, justice Tanko Muhammad to respond in same manner to two allegations filed against him. The petitions were filed by citizen-based organisations and a lawyer.

“In view of the gravity of the matters involved, Council abridged the usual response period from fourteen (14) to seven (7) working days for the Hon. Justices to respond”, a statement sighted by News Central and signed by NJC Spokesman, Soji Oye said.

Nigerians were shocked last Friday by President Muhammadu Buhari’s suspension of Chief Justice Onnoghen and swift swearing in of an acting judge. The action followed an earlier six-count charge of non-assets declaration against the embattled jurist filed on January 14, before a special court.

Onnoghen had been charged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal or CCT with such issues as failure to declare Naira bank accounts and owning multiple domiciliary and foreign bank accounts with hundreds of thousands of dollars, contrary to constitutional provisions and code of conduct for public officials in Nigeria.

Buhari’s action led to an uproar with opposition politicians especially of the Peoples Democratic Party, lawyers, civil society organisations and many western diplomats issuing statements against the decision.

The Nigerian government was accused of circumventing constitutional provisions for the discipline of judges without referring the matter to the judicial council. They warned that the action was capable of upsetting the credibility of the February 16 presidential elections, which is less than two weeks away.

The government called the bluff of the opposition and diplomats. It warned against “foreign meddling” in its internal matters even as it clarified that the suspension of the chief judge was due to grievous corruption allegations and misuse of judicial powers to circumvent the law through the use of technicalities by Onnoghen, making the suspension inevitable, after obtaining an emergency court order from the CCT to stop him from ridiculing the judiciary.

In what looks like an oncoming tide that may sweep the country’s major judicial actors, the CCT Chairman Danladi Umar also had a petition filed against him at the NJC based on corruption allegations. “Council referred the petition against Hon. Danladi Yakubu Umar to the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) which is the appropriate constitutional body empowered to deal with it”, the NJC added.

Until his suspension, Onnoghen was the head of the NJC. But as the body met at the emergency meeting, both the chief judge and the acting chief judge were asked to recuse themselves. 

The CCT had on Monday adjourned the case indefinitely after a Court of Appeal order, pending the determination of a case of lack of powers or jurisdiction, to prosecute the matter at the CCT.

An order by the country’s body of lawyers which asked for a boycott of courtrooms for two days to express grievances by legal practitioners against Buhari’s suspension of the chief judge remained unsuccessful across Nigeria on Tuesday. Many lawyers were seen in courts even as judges showed up to handle cases. Only a handful of protests were recorded in cities like Calabar, Abuja and Lagos.

Some lawyers said there was no need for protests directed by the Nigeria Bar Association as suspended chief justice Onnoghen had himself admitted in writing to the allegations wherein he said he “forgot” to declare the bank accounts and dozens of mansions.


The judicial council will reconvene on February 11 for a decision on  responses to the petitions.

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North Africa Politics

Egyptian security forces kill 21 terrorists planning Eid-ul-Fitr attack

Police raided two hideouts of “terrorist elements” in North Sinai governorate, sparking a gunbattle in which two officers were also wounded, the Interior Ministry said.

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An Egyptian police Vehicle is parked inside a cemetery after the former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was buried in Cairo
Egyptian security forces had found automatic weapons and suicide belts in the hideouts.) AFP

Egyptian security forces said Saturday that 21 terrorists were killed in clashes within the restive Sinai peninsula, where Islamic State group-affiliated militants have waged a long-running insurgency amidst constant crackdown by the police and military.

The government said two terrorist groups had been planning attacks during the major Islamic holiday – Eid al-Fitr – which starts in Egypt on Sunday.

The interior ministry said in a statement that police raided two hideouts of “terrorist elements” in North Sinai governorate, sparking a gun-battle in which two officers were also wounded.

Security forces had found automatic weapons and suicide belts in the hideouts.

Security forces have been battling a long-running insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula — in Egypt’s northeast — that is spearheaded by a local affiliate of the terrorist Islamic State group.

The fighting intensified after the military’s 2013 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.

In February 2018, security forces launched a nationwide operation against militants, focused on North Sinai. 

Around 950 suspected militants have been killed in the region along with dozens of security personnel, according to official figures.

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Health

‘Stop attacks on Covid-19 response teams’, DR Congo warns citizens

The government also denied any manipulation of its figures for coronavirus cases and deaths.

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DR Congo's Goma city records second Ebola death
A Congolese health official checking the temperature of a kid. The vast central African country reported its first Covid-19 case on March 10./AFP

The Democratic Republic of Congo has condemned and warned citizens over attacks on coronavirus prevention and response teams in Kinshasa, urging the minister of justice “to act rigorously against the perpetrators of these acts”.

The Council of Ministers took the decision at the weekend following an increase in attacks on health workers and other government officials on field assignments to respond to Covid-19 cases and sensitize citizens on personal hygiene.

The government also denied any manipulation of its figures for coronavirus cases and deaths.

The controversy came as health officials announced DR Congo’s latest COVID-19 figures which stand at 63 deaths from 2,025 cases, most of them in the capital, Kinshasa. So far, 312 people have recovered since the country reported its first case on March 10.

Late on Friday, the government reported that a doctor and a hospital administrator had been arrested and later released over allegations of false declaration of coronavirus cases. 

A government news bulletin stated that the arrests were made following “the controversy over a patient who died this month”. 

The country’s Council of Ministers met on Friday after President Felix Tshisekedi asked the health minister to investigate rumours of fake patient deaths linked to the virus. 

“A negative media campaign is being waged against our country by some foreign media, with the aim of tarnishing its image in connection with the management of COVID-19,” the Council of Ministers said in the minutes of the meeting. 

Meanwhile, Parliament voted on Friday to extend the state of emergency order by 15 days for the third time. 

A team of Chinese medical experts who arrived Kinshasa earlier this month found no evidence that the number of virus cases or deaths were distorted, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, DR Congo’s coronavirus front man, told a news conference on Friday. 

“Cases are less severe here than in Europe or the United States. We have a younger population that is more resistant to infection,” Muyembe said. 

Zhu Jing, the Chinese ambassador to DR Congo, said the team of Chinese doctors did not find any “fake patients”. 

“The hospitalised patients are indeed suffering from the pandemic,” he said. 

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Health

Covid-19: Nigerian states relax ban on religious gatherings as Muslims celebrate Eid-ul-fitr

In Kano state, muslim worshippers on Friday trooped to mosques in masks for weekly prayers while security guards administered hand sanitiser at the entrance.

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PHOTO: Muslim faithfuls worship during the Friday prayers at the National Mosque in Abuja, Nigeria, on March 20, 2020. Nigeria said on March 19, 2020, it would shut schools and limit religious meetings in its economic hub Lagos and capital Abuja. Kola Sulaimon / AFP

As Muslims across the globe mark the end of the Ramadan fasting with the Eid-ul-Fitr celebration,some governors in Northern Nigeria have relaxed restrictions on large religious gatherings, meant to contain the spread of COVID-19, to enable their citizens congregate at Eid praying grounds and commemorate religious rites as they celebrate the festival this weekend.

The action runs contrary to guidelines by the country’s presidential taskforce on COVID-19 which insists on social distancing as the ban on religious gathering is still on considering the country’s latest figures of 7,261 cases of the Coronavirus with 221 deaths at the last count.

“Muslims should, therefore, act according to the established protocol in their various communities and locations in Nigeria during the forthcoming Eid-ul-Fitr”, President-General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, declared.

“In places where restrictions have been lifted from congregational prayers, Muslims should observe their Eid prayers while still taking necessary safety measures regarding personal hygiene, facial masks, and social distancing”, Sultan Abubakar III, the spiritual leader of Nigerian Muslims said.

In the country’s capital, Abuja, the government met with leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the League of Imams to delibrate on the relaxation of the ban on religious gatherings. 

Abuja city Minister, Muhammad Bello concluded that “all actions on the re-opening of the society is hinged on the advice of medical experts who at the moment do not support it”. He said until a contrary advice is given, the Federal Capital Territory remains under lockdown.

Bello said “a team consisting of representatives of the religious organisations and their leadership, as well as the FCT has been constituted to  gradually look at what the modalities and protocols of operating places of worship will be  when COVID-19 lockdown in the FCT is relaxed”.

Nigerian Police Spokesperson, Frank Mba reminded citizens “that the COVID-19 prevention regulation orders including the inter-state movement restriction orders, national curfew, prohibition of mass socio-religious gatherings by the Federal Government in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos, Ogun, and Kano States and restriction orders by governments in some states of the Federation, are still in force”.

In Kano state, muslim worshippers on Friday trooped to mosques with face masks for weekly prayers while security guards administered hand sanitisers at the entrances.

Around 3,000 people attended the prayers at the Kano central mosque but the service was less than an hour long. They sat shoulder-to-shoulder as they listened to a short sermon by cleric AbdulHadi Ibrahim.

“We thank God that we are here to observe the Friday prayers which we ardently hope signals the stabilisation of the coronavirus pandemic,” Ibrahim said.

Social distancing was not observed outside the mosque as well. While all the worshippers inside the mosque wore masks, many of those outside, including children, did not.

“We are doing all we can to make everyone safe but our capacity is limited as the face masks cannot go round,” a local chief at the mosque, told newsmen.

“Looking at the faces of worshippers, it is evident everyone is happy that though the prayer has not held for some weeks, it has now been conducted today,” worshipper Aminu Garba said.

Kano is one of the states planning to lift the partial lockdown. It has the second largest Covid-19 infections in Nigeria with 883 cases and 36 deaths.

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