Buhari Appoints Onnoghen Acting CJN

Muhammadu Buhari
  •  To be sworn in thursday

Bolaji Adebiyi and Tobi Soniyi in Abuja

The uncertainty surrounding succession to the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) has persisted even as the Presidency said wednesday that an acting CJN would be sworn in today by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The president’s failure to appoint a replacement for Justice Mahmud Mohammed, whose tenure lapsed 12 midnight wednesday, had threatened to create a leadership vacuum in the judiciary.

But the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Shehu Garba, told THISDAY wednesday that there was no prospect for confusion as the president would inaugurate an acting CJN later today.

“An acting CJN will be sworn in by President Muhammadu Buhari at 2.00 pm thursday,” he stated in a text message, adding that he had no information about who would be appointed into the office.

“The Attorney-General of the Federation will present the person to the president tomorrow for swearing-in,” he said.

A reliable source, however, told THISDAY wednesday that the most senior justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Walter Onnoghen, might be the choice of the president in line with Section 230 (4) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which provides: “If the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the president shall appoint the most senior justice of the Supreme Court to perform those functions.”

By virtue of Section 231 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, it is the prerogative of the ‎president to appoint a CJN.

Section 231 (1) explicitly provides: “The appointment of a person to the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.”

‎At its emergency meeting held on 11 October, 2016, the National Judicial Council (NJC) recommended Justice Onnoghen, being the most senior justice of the Supreme Court, for consideration for appointment as CJN.

But the process of appointment was stalemated by the failure of the president to indicate his acceptance of the NJC recommendation by forwarding its nominee to the Senate for confirmation.

Although in law, the president is not bound to accept the NJC recommendation, he could also not bypass the council in making the appointment.

If for any reason, the president does not accept the NJC recommendation, he is at liberty to ask the Council to recommend to him another suitable candidate for the office.

Senior lawyers told THISDAY yesterday that unless the president exercised his powers under Section 230 (4) of the Constitution, there might be a leadership vacuum that could precipitate a constitutional crisis in the third arm of government.

The lawyers argued that except the president activated this section of the Constitution, the most senior justice of the Supreme Court could not automatically assume the leadership of the judiciary.

By swearing in someone in an acting capacity today, the president would have activated this proviso even as he leaves in abeyance the process of appointing a substantive chief justice of the federation.

‎Last Monday, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Sebastian’s Hon, called on the president to act with dispatch and ensure that the name of the next CJN was forwarded to the Senate for clearance.

Hon, in a statement, ‎said it was scary that the name of the next CJN had not been sent to the Senate with less than a week before the incumbent, Justice Mohammed, would retire.

He said: “The tenure of office of the incumbent Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, will expire at 12 midnight on 9th November, 2016.

“The name of Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen, the next most Senior Justice of the Supreme Court, has since October 10, 2016, been forwarded to the president, who is expected, constitutionally, to forward it to the Senate for confirmation.

“Till this moment, Mr. President has not forwarded Justice Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation. This is scary, to say the least.

“Senate confirmation hearings are not jamborees but are grave constitutional exercises, requiring incisive investigative and at times confrontational posturing. In other words, the Senate needs to obtain the biodata of the CJN nominee ahead of time, to enable the upper legislative chambers to conduct a thorough investigation cum confirmation exercise.

“The time to act is now, as the Senate must confirm Justice Onnoghen latest on Tuesday, to further enable his swearing-in just before or just after Justice Mahmud bows out.

“The image of the Judiciary has nosedived in the recent times; and Mr. President must be seen to be preventing any further dent on the image of this crucial arm of government.

“Mr. President should once again act as the father of the nation, by forwarding Justice Onnoghen’s name for confirmation – since he is the only southerner entitled to occupy the seat of the CJN for close to 30 years.

“This gesture will go a very long way in cementing our sectional divides. Again, the time to act is now!”

  • Aleks

    Buhari could not take control of the Legislature, so he has to take control of the Judiciary by all means. With Onnoghen as acting CJN, it will take the grace of God for the man to remain independent. He has virtually been blackmailed into siding with the presidents camp on every matter. With one single decision against the presidents camp, he is out. By then there will be enough ‘evidence’ to feed the press with.

  • igonzia

    Buhari beware that Trump is here.

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  • Darlington

    This goes to show the naivety of Southerners. This is the first Southerner CJN for 30 years, yet Buhari is not comfortable with him, and some fools still believe in the so called one Nigeria?

  • Ify Onabu

    If we continue to allow the President of Nigeria to appoint the Chief Justice of Nigeria, what guarantee is there that such an appointee will not do the political bidding of the man that appointed him? About time to amend the provision of the constitution relating to this matter!

  • share Idea

    It is all GEJ’s fault that Buhari have not sent the name of next CJN to senate. Simple task is like rocket science to Buhari and his administration.


    Our President Buhari has cornered himself uncomfortably by insisting on being the President of 2016 Nigeria.

    A lot of things have changed but he and some older thinking rulers of the north, especially such as the Ango Ibrahim, Yakassi etc flock, have yet to embrace the truth that the world has moved on. The world is a global village today!

    I urge President Buhari to “up his ante” today or be prepared to get swept away by the tide in world politics.

    It is NEVER again going to be same as the period when Nigerians just had to “take it or leave it”. Nigerian politics (even the matter of the appointment of our CJN) are no longer exclusive Nigeria affairs because the silent repercussions have global effects.

    So President Buhari had better “boot up” and let our country join the world. He has to do the necessary things for our country!

  • Tony

    This smarty pant Buhari is hell bent at appointing somebody that will do his biding. Why appoint Onnoghen as an acting CJN when he has been recommended for the job. The real thing would be to sent his name to the senate for confirmation. Now if Onnoghen will not do his biding, he will be replaced using a trump-up allegation of corruption to remove him . Then he can put his puppet. Buhari is playing games with the constitutional provision, interpreting it for his convenience

    • Danladi Rabiu

      It is fair for a Northerner to be appointed CJN because Yorubas dominate civil service, Ibos dominate business while Niger delta holds our oil reserves. In the interest of natural justice let a norther be appointed CJN

      • igonzia

        Did you allow us to hold our oil reserves?

      • Dele Awogbeoba

        Actually, Yorubas do not control the civil service and igbos do not control business.

      • ucheyahct

        If you think IGBOS dominate business, you had better do your research well and think again. If it is buying and selling, yes I can agree with you, but if it is the 21 ST century businesses based on creativity and innovation, YORUBAS are leading. I am a proud IGBO, but truth has to be told so that we can wake up and stop deceiving ourselves

    • igonzia

      Exactly my thinking

  • Kalitaaruku

    It would be heavily dissapointing if BUHARI nominates a person from Northern extraction to become cJN

    • FrNinja

      Disappointing or in character? He is looking for a Northern muslim to be CJN to do his bidding.

    • okenwa

      It has happened already. Only grammar south sabi.

  • Daniel Obior

    But why did it have to take so long, Baba Go Slow?

    • ojomaje ijato

      He is looking for a Fulani relative; it is deliberate.

    • DrPak

      Because he is looking for an Hausa Fulani who will abide his Sharia principles

    • share Idea

      This guys name was recommended together with four judges that were recommended for elevation to supreme court (all northers), and Buhari speedily forwarded their names to Senate. Yet, the mumus in the south are busy claiming that Buhari is the best president Nigeria ever had.

      • okenwa

        He retired top southern army generals to pave way for burutai. He will do just exactly to this southern justice. Lets wait and see.