A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), says he has submitted a petition against Justice Tanko Muhammed, who was appointed last Friday as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari.
In a statement from his chambers on Monday, Agbakoba said he submitted his petition to the National Judicial Council, asking it to determine the propriety of Justice Mohammed accepting to be sworn-in by the President in place of the suspended CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
According to Agbakoba, by submitting himself to the President to be sworn-in as acting CJN, Justice Mohammed lent himself to constitutional infraction by the executive arm of government.
Agbakoba recalled that Justice Mohammed was part of an NJC panel that sanctioned Justice Obisike Orji of Abia State for allowing himself to be sworn-in as Abia State Chief Judge by the state’s governor without the recommendation of the NJC.
Agbakoba said, “It is a matter of regret that Justice Tanko Muhammad, who participated in this process, will lend himself to this constitutional infraction.
“We pray the NJC to determine this petition in line with the decision in Justice Obisike Orji by immediately removing Justice Tanko Muhammad as Justice of the Supreme Court on grounds of gross misconduct which has generated perhaps the most controversial crisis in Nigeria’s judicial history.”
Insisting that the President violated the law in suspending Justice Onnoghen, Agbakoba cited Section 153 of the constitution, saying the law was clear on how a CJN could be removed.
He said, “The Constitution is clear about the procedure for suspending or removing the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“The Chief Justice of Nigeria can only be removed on the recommendation of the NJC. See Section 153 (1), Paragraph 21 (a) of the 3rd Schedule and Section 292 (1) (a) (i) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999and the Supreme Court decision in Elelu-Habeeb v AGF (2012) 40 WRN 1.
“Hon. Justice Tanko Muhammad is fully aware of the state of law, yet presented himself to be sworn in by the President.”v
Meanwhile, anti-corruption group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, has given the NJC till Thursday to take over Onnoghen’s case and look into the false asset declaration allegations levelled against him.
SERAP, in a statement by its Senior Legal Adviser, Bamisope Adeyanju, asked Justice Muhammad to recuse himself from the case.
It said if the allegations against Justice Onnoghen were established after the investigation by the NJC, the CJN should be handed over to the relevant anti-graft agency for prosecution.
“The NJC should take the recommended action within five days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, failing which SERAP will take appropriate legal action to compel the NJC to take action on the case,” the statement read.