By Jonathan Ugbal
With 8 days left to be in office in acting capacity, the Federal Government has initiated moves to stop the confirmation of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen reports The Authority.
President Muhammadu Buhari is said to be set to break the old tradition of appointing the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) as he has gone beyond the bench to the bar to search for a credible person from the South – South to head the Judiciary.
This according to reports is to clear the notion that it is a move to install a northern lawyer as CJN as sources say the President aims at sanitizing the judiciary with a massive sack of Justices of the Supreme Court looming.
Indications have also emerged that this will pave way for Judges whose ideological leanings are more APC inclined with the current Supreme Court Justices said to be more tilted to the PDP.
Cross River born Acting CJN Onnoghen was appointed in November 2016 and by February 10, 2017 would have served out his 90 day acting capacity which the Presidency said is a window that is yet to elapse.
The immediate past CJN, Justice Muhammed Mahmoud had warned against going against the age long tradition while declaring open the 2016/2017 legal year in Abuja.
Justice Muhammed who made reference to section 231 of the 1999 constitution said though there are no constitutional restrictions as to where those to be appointed are selected from, the process was however “apolitical, transparent and fair.”
“The idea that we can appoint a legal practitioner, without the proven experience or the temperance of character developed through the years of active participation in adjudication, may indeed be fraught with risk, none greater than the risk of creating another sinecure for party loyalists or reducing the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria to one which can be ‘lobbied’ for. This will undoubtedly and irreversibly hurt our justice system and must be strenuously resisted” Justice Muhammed had said.
Also, another ex-CJN, Justice Mohammed Uwais, in an exclusive interview with the The Authority newspaper criticized the idea of appointing a private legal practitioner to the apex court Bench.
According to Justice Uwais: “…part of the problem is not just the ability of the judge you want. There is the issue of integrity; if you have been a judge at the High Court or Court of Appeal before coming to the Supreme Court, you would have done cases, whether you are a corrupt person, which would have been discovered. And from your judgments also, the Court of Appeal would have known how good you are if you are at the High Court. But if you are a legal practitioner, you haven’t written any judgment. So, there is no way you can be assessed in that respect.”
Also, former President of the Nigeria Bar Association, Joseph Daudu (SAN), told The Authority that President Buhari’s tardiness in appointing a substantive CJN for the country’s judiciary was unprecedented and unhealthy for the country’s judiciary, particularly when the NJC had recommended Justice Onnoghen as the candidate for appointment in a substantive capacity.
However, the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Okoi Obono-Obla, said that the issue of not confirming the acting CJN’s appointment was “speculative.” Obla said that the Presidency was yet to take any decision on the matter.
“The President is not aware of any plot to remove the acting CJN. I don’t know about that. It is a rumor. The only thing is that at the appropriate time, the Federal Government will say something about the position of the CJN,” he said.
In a similar vein, the Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly while reacting to a post on Facebook concerning the re submission of Ibrahim Magu’s name as EFCC Chairman by President Muhammadu Buhari wrote; “I hope Mr. President will also resend Justice Onnoghen’s name to the Senate if his nomination by NJC expires by 10th February without it been forwarded to the Senate.”
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