Tobi Soniyi in Abuja and Ejiofor Alike in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari’s procrastination over the submission of the name of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen to the Senate as the substantive nominee to the post of CJN, has forced Justice Onnoghen to appeal to Nigerians to allow the president a free hand on his choice of nominee for the post.
Onnoghen, whose position as acting CJN will expire on February 10, was reacting to the pressure mounted in recent days, especially by the Cross River State Caucus of the National Assembly, the Afenifere socio-cultural group and a lawsuit instituted by civil rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, demanding that Justice Onnoghen be made substantive CJN.
The clamour for his appointment gathered steam yesterday, when a former military governor of Kaduna State, Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd.), called on the National Judicial Council (NJC) not to forward any other name to the president in place of Justice Onnoghen. He also asked the Senate not to confirm any other nominee sent to it by Buhari.
But in a statement yesterday by his media aide, Mr. Awassam Bassey, the acting CJN said there was no need to give the president ultimatums over his appointment as the substantive CJN.
The statement read: “The Honourable acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, His Lordship, the Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, wishes to appeal to Nigerians to allow Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari, a free hand to perform his constitutional duties concerning the appointment of a substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“Justice Onnoghen believes the president does not need any threat or ultimatum to perform his constitutional duties and therefore dissociates himself from those individuals and groups making such demands on the president.
“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 a 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.
“In conclusion, the acting Chief Justice wishes to thank all 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.”
Despite Justice Onnoghen’s plea, a former governor of Kaduna State joined the clamour yesterday when he reminded Nigerians that in a few days Onnoghen’s tenure as acting CJN would expired, rendering him disqualified for the position as the substantive CJN, except the NJC resubmits his nomination to Buhari.
In a statement he personally signed, Col. Umar said: “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 resubmits his nomination to the president.”
The former military administrator noted that without providing any cogent and plausible or believable reason for its failure to forward the name of Justice Onnoghen to the Senate for confirmation, the presidency has left Nigerians guessing and speculating about the reasons.
“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 by 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,” he added.