By Victor Ogunje in Ado Ekiti
Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, has expressed reservations over the non-appointment of Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen as the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), claiming that his appointment in an acting capacity was “a grand plot to deprive him of his well-deserved appointment as CJN because he is from the South-south region”.
The governor also raised the alarm over those he branded as the cabal in the Presidential Villa, saying they might want to hold him (Onnoghen) by “the jugular, using his confirmation as substantive CJN to get him to assist them to pervert justice”.
Sequel to the retirement of Justice Mohammed Mahmoud, Onnoghen was sworn in by President Muhammadu Buhari last week Thursday as the acting CJN of the country, which was a novel idea in the judiciary.
In a statement issued in Ado-Ekiti by his media aide, Lere Olayinka, Fayose said it was strange that despite the fact that the National Judicial Council (NJC) recommended only Justice Onnoghen to Buhari for appointment as the CJN, in line with its rules since October 13, 2016, his name was not sent to the Senate for confirmation.
The governor said that this was the first time Nigeria would have an acting CJN despite the fact that Justice Onnoghen’s name was sent to Buhari early enough.
He said: “At the time the NJC recommended Justice Onnoghen to President Buhari, it was 28 clear days to the November 10, 2016 retirement date of Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
“Why then was his (Justice Onnoghen) name not sent to the Senate for confirmation? Why appoint him as acting CJN when his name should have been sent to the Senate between October 13, 2016 when he was recommended to the president and November 10, 2016 when Justice Mahmud Mohammed retired?
“Obviously, there is more to this acting CJN appointment than meets the eye, and in my opinion, it could be that President Buhari never wanted Justice Onnoghen as a substantive CJN because he is from the South-south, or they want to use his pending appointment as substantive CJN to make him do their bidding.”
He lamented that the presidency has subdued the National Assembly and was now in the last stage of muscling democracy by subduing the judiciary.
“If men of good conscience, especially the leading lights in the legal profession refuse to raise their voices against this tyranny, they will all be consumed by the tyrant,” he warned.
Fayose, who said playing politics with the judiciary, especially at the CJN level, was dangerous to the survival of democracy, urged Justice Onnoghen to do his job without fear or favour, “bearing in mind that it is only God that put people in positions”.
“I am sure those who made sure Justice Onnoghen’s name was not sent to the Senate for confirmation until the tenure of Justice Mahmud Mohammed expired knew what they were doing.
“They obviously needed a situation where the CJN, being in acting capacity, will be subservient to them, using his appointment as substantive CJN as bait.
“However, Justice Onnoghen must live above that temptation of wanting to be the substantive CJN at the expense of the strict adherence to the rule of law and the principles of democracy.
“He must resist any attempt to further gag the judiciary even if that will cost him his appointment as the substantive CJN,” the governor said.