Senate will screen Justice Samuel Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) on February 21, at the resumption of plenary.
Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo had yesterday forwarded Onnoghen’s nomination to the Senate after he reportedly got clearance to do so from President Muhammad Buhari.
Buhari left Nigeria on January 18, on a 10-day medical vacation to the United Kingdom. He sought an extension, which was left open-ended on Sunday, February 5, a day before he was scheduled to resume work.
Reports gathered the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, will not read the nomination letter forwarded to him by Osinbajo until February 21, when the Senate would resume plenary after a three-week break.
Sources in the Senate President’s office confirmed the letter was personally handed over to Saraki, at his residence, by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, yesterday morning.
Senator Enang is, however, expected to brief Senate Correspondents today, to speak more on the controversy surrounding the delay in transmitting Onnoghen’s nomination to the Senate.
Senate had, on January 26, 2017, suspended plenary to enable its 66 standing committees conduct the yearly budget defence for ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
The 90-day period allowed by the 1999 Constitution, as amended, for an acting CJN expires tomorrow and Senate’s suspension of plenary still stands, according to a ranking Senator who spoke with Daily Sun, yesterday.
According to Senate procedure, the Red Chamber can refer the nomination to its relevant committee and in this case, the Committee on Judiciary and Human Rights for screening and await its report before going ahead with the confirmation during plenary.
Conversely, Senate can also decide to conduct the screening and confirmation at the Committee of the Whole, during plenary.
Newsmen also gathered that Buhari reportedly reminded his deputy of an earlier letter transmitted to the Senate, appointing Onnoghen as acting CJN.
And so, to ensure there is no constitutional vacuum, as Onnoghen’s tenure as acting CJN ends tomorrow, Osinbajo reportedly sent a letter to the Senate in that regard.
Earlier, the Presidency confirmed Onnoghen’s nomination had been sent to the Senate for confirmation, via its twitter handle @NGRPresident.
Onnoghen would be the first CJN from the southern part of the country, in about 30 years.
The last southern CJN was Justice Ayo Irikefe, between 1985 and 1987 and he was succeeded by Mohammed Bello.
Justice Onnoghen has been a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria since 2005.
He graduated from the University of Ghana, Legon, in 1977 and the Nigerian Law School in 1978.
Before joining the Supreme Court, he was a judge in Cross River State and a justice of the Court of Appeal.
Onnoghen was born on December 22, 1950, in Okurike Town, Biase Local Government Area of Cross Rivers State.
He attended the Presbyterian Primary School, Okurike Town between 1959 and 1965.
He later proceeded to Accra, Ghana to attend Odorgorno Secondary School, Adabraka, Accra, Ghana, between 1967 and 1972 for his West African Examination Council (WAEC) exams.
He was at Accra Academy, Accra, Ghana, between 1972 and 1974 for his WAEC (A-Levels) before proceeding to the University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana, between 1974 and 1977 to obtain his Bachelor of Law Degree (LL.B (Hons)) and graduated with 2nd Class Upper Division.
He attended the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos, between 1977 and 1978 for his B.L certificate.
His previous professional appointments/positions held include: Pupil State Counsel, Ministry of Justice, Ikeja, Lagos (1978 – 1979); Partner in the Law Firm of Effiom Ekong & Company, Calabar (1979 – 1988); Principal Partner/Head of Chamber of Walter Onnoghen & Associates, Calabar (1988-1989);High Court Judge, Cross Rivers State Judiciary (1989 – 1998) and Chairman, Cross Rivers State Armed Robbery and Fire Arms Tribunal (1990 – 1993).
Others are, Chairman, Judicial Enquiry into the Crisis between Student of the University of Calabar and Obufa Esuk Orok Community, Calabar (1996);
Chairman, Failed Bank Tribunal, Ibadan Zone (1998); Judge, High Court of Rivers State (1992 – 2004) and Justice of the Court of Appeal (1998 – 2005).