Indications have emerged that President Muhammadu Buhari has now resolved to appoint Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Since Justice Onnoghen was sworn in by President Buhari as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) on November 12, 2016, there has been concern over whether Onnoghen would become substantive CJN since the president was yet to forward his name to the Senate barely a week to the end of the three months that he can hold the post on acting capacity.
The period expires on February 7, 2017.
However, an impeccable source close to the presidency, who asked not to be named, told newsmen that the presidency and the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice had a meeting with Justice Onnoghen at 2am last night.
“They presented to Onnoghen the dossier the security agencies have on him to go through, showing why they delayed to confirm him. He would have to guard against some of these things when he takes full charge of the judiciary,” the source said.
With this development, acting President Yemi Osibanjo will forward a letter on behalf of President Buhari to the Senate for Justice Onnoghen’s confirmation any moment from now.
ADELOVE recalls that the National Judicial Council (NJC) headed by the immediate past CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, had on October 12, 2016, recommended and forwarded Onnoghen’s name to the president for appointment as the next CJN in line with Section 231 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
By the virtue of this provision, the president is to forward NJC’s recommendation to the Senate for confirmation. This and other conditions related to the CJN’s appointment, such as security screening, were left hanging till the day the then CJN, Justice Mohammed, was to retire after attaining the compulsory retirement age of 70 years on November 10, 2016.
Consequently, President Buhari swore in Justice Onnoghen who was the most senior justice of the Supreme Court as the acting CJN in line with Section 231 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
However, the delay by President Buhari to forward Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation and subsequently to appoint him as the substantive CJN began to generate heat in the polity and drew reactions from some individuals and groups in the country.
Federal lawmakers from Cross River State under the aegis of Cross River Lawmakers Caucus had on Tuesday raised concerns that for “exactly two months and 15 days, the presidency has delayed and withheld to forward his name to the Senate for confirmation as CJN as required by Section 231(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.”
On January 28, 2017, former president of the Nigeria Bar Association, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, warned the federal government against the creation of a hazardous uncertainty in the polity by the president’s refusal to transmit Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation as the substantive CJN, saying the Buhari government was setting a dangerous precedent by causing Onnoghen to linger on the post of acting CJN since November 10 last year
But faulting Olanipekun, the chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), declared that President Buhari was not bound to ratify Onnoghen’s name as recommended by the NJC. He specifically said that since Buhari was neither a rubber stamp of the NJC, ‘nor a robot for the conveyance of a recommendation from the NJC to the Senate’, Onnoghen’s recommendation, or that of any other name, did not give him automatic entitlement to the CJN chair.
CJN Appeals For Calm Over His Confirmation
The acting chief justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, has appealed to Nigerians to allow President Muhammadu Buhari a free hand to perform his constitutional duties concerning the appointment of a substantive CJN.
The CJN, in a statement yesterday, said he believes the president does not need any threat or ultimatum to perform his constitutional duties. He, therefore, dissociated himself from individuals and groups making such demand on the president.
A statement signed by his special adviser on media, Mr Awassam Bassey, read, “However, the acting CJN and the Nigerian Judiciary sincerely appreciate the interest of Nigerians towards the appointment of a substantive CJN to oversee the affairs of the Judiciary as the third arm of government, but (they) believe that issuing an ultimatum to Mr. President appears to be going too far and smacks of disrespect for the exalted office of the president.
“The acting chief justice therefore appeals for caution on the issue of the appointment of Chief Justice of Nigeria as Mr President goes about his constitutional duties, especially considering the fact that the given time for him to act as Chief Justice of Nigeria has not expired.”