Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, has appealed to Nigerians to allow President Muhammadu Buhari a free hand in the appointment of a substantive CJN.
The acting CJN made the plea yesterday in a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant (Media) Awassam Bassey.
On Tuesday, both the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere and the Cross River caucus in the National Assembly, in separate statements, asked Buhari to submit the name of Onnoghen to the Senate for confirmation without delay.
The Afenifere gave the president a 9-day ultimatum within which to comply with its demand.
Also in a statement yesterday, former governor of Kaduna sate, Abubakar Dangiwa Umar said the failure of the presidency to forward Onnoghen’s name to the senate for confirmation without any reason “leaves Nigerians guessing and speculating.
“In a few days, the tenure of acting appointment of justice Onnoghen will expire. Going by our extant constitution, the acting CJN will be disqualified from appointment as the substantive CJN unless the NJC resubmit his nomination to the president,” Umar said in a statement.
“Already, many analysts view this action as a ploy to deny a southerner his right to succession based on his seniority in keeping with the appointment protocol observed the NJC in making the appointment.
“In the event of this occurrence, the NJC must not forward any other name nor should the senate confirm any other nominee.
“This will serve to check the excesses of this administration and reinforce the unity of the nation which has already been pushed to the precipice by the recruitment and appointment policies of a government which tends to favour the north in violation of the federal character provision of the constitution.”
However, Justice Onnoghen said the president did not need any threat or ultimatum to perform his constitutional duties.
He therefore dissociated himself from those individuals and groups making such demands on the president.
The statement reads in part: “However, the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Nigerian Judiciary sincerely appreciate the interest of Nigerians towards the appointment of a substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria to oversee the affairs of the Judiciary as the third arm of government, but believes 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.”
The Acting CJN thanked Nigerians for their support and continued prayers while calling on them to back the Federal Government in the fight to make the country a better place for all.
In a telephone interview with Daily Trust yesterday, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who does not want his name in print said that all hope is not lost even if the acting CJN is not confirmed by February 10, 2017 when the three months acting appointment would have expired.
He however cautioned President Buhari to avoid being seen as favouring a particular section of the society.
According to the lawyer, the Constitution is very clear that after February 10, the CJN will not be eligible for nomination as acting CJN but that will not stop him from being subsequently appointed as substantive CJN.
“If the three months of acting expires, nothing stops him from being appointed CJN. He can still be a Justice of the Supreme Court (JSC)”, the SAN said.
President Muhammadu Buhari in November last year appointed Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen from Cross River State, as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN.
Onnoghen took over from Justice Mahmud Mohammed, who retired having attained the mandatory retirement age of 70.
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