- Ethnicity, vendetta stalling Onnoghen’s confirmation, C’River N’Assembly caucus alleges
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The anxiety generated over the fate of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, shifted to the court tuesday when human rights activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, dragged the president, the vice-president, the Senate, the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to court in order to preserve the office of the CJN.
In the suit filed at the Federal High Court in Lagos, Adegboruwa is asking the court to direct the president, and in his absence, the vice-president, to forward the name of Justice Onnoghen to the Senate for confirmation as recommended by the NJC.
He also asked for an order of injunction to restrain the president and the vice-president from appointing another candidate for confirmation to the Senate for the office of the CJN apart from Justice Onnoghen, who is the most senior justice of the Supreme Court and who has already been selected and recommended by the NJC.
Adegboruwa wants the court to stop the Senate from accepting, entertaining, deliberating on or considering the nomination of any other candidate that might be forwarded to it by the president and the vice-president, apart from Justice Onnoghen, who has already been selected by the NJC.
He is seeking an order of injunction to restrain the NJC from entertaining any request from the president and the vice-president, to consider another candidate for the office of the CJN, apart from Justice Onnoghen already selected.
Adegboruwa also prayed the court to forthwith direct Justice Onnoghen to assume and take over and be performing and discharging the duties and functions of the office of the CJN until such a time that the president would agree to forward his name to the Senate for confirmation or until he retires at the mandatory age of 70 years.
In a detailed 42 paragraph affidavit in support of the suit, Adegboruwa traced the history of the previous appointments of all the CJNs, stating that it has never been the style of the executive to leave a vacuum in the highest judicial office of the land.
He stated that upon the coming into force of the 1999 Constitution, the president has no discretion in the choice of candidate to occupy the office of the CJN, other than the person selected and recommended to him by the NJC.
Adegboruwa accused President Muhammadu Buhari of a negative bias against the judiciary which he had openly declared as his headache, stressing that the president is deliberately withholding the appointment of Justice Onnoghen in order to destabilise the judiciary and to force him into compulsory retirement, being a Christian from Southern part of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the Cross River Caucus in the National Assembly has alleged that the confirmation of Justice Onnoghen as CJN being stalled by ethnic considerations, and vendatta for his radical judicial pronouncements, by some powerful forces.
The caucus said President Buhari’s inaction on the appointment provides fodder for those alluding to the vast conspiracy to deny Onnoghen the position.
Speaking on behalf of the caucus tuesday, its leader, Senator John Owan Enoh called on the president to immediately transmit the name of Onnoghen, to the Senate for confirmation.
“There is a growing sentiment in certain quarters that Justice Onnoghen’s earned elevation to the rank of CJN is held in abeyance precisely because he is either not from a particular ethnic origin preferred by powerful forces of his profound and at times radical judicial pronouncements make him too principled to occupy this exalted office,” he said.
“As political leaders, we should collectively resolve to build a just and fair society devoid of ethnic cleavages, a society where hard work and integrity are rewarded and not repudiated. As leaders, we should work towards the inauguration of a just order in which the East meets the North, South and West and together in confidence, united by a common and shared destiny and mutual respect, we confront the future together,” Enoh added.
Enoh said the National Judicial Council (NJC) in exercising its constitutional powers was transparent and followed laid down procedures and processes, to nominate the most senior officer in the judiciary.
By appointing Onnoghen as acting CJN, the President has therefore foreclosed any insinuation as to incompetence or any disabling factor for him to be made substantive CJN, Enoh added.
“….This will bring to an end the swirling speculations of vendetta against the revered justice and restore confidence in our judiciary. Any action contrary to this will convey and validate growing sentiments of vendetta,” the senator added.
While the NJC would be required to forward another name to the president if three months elapsed without confirmation of an acting CJN, Enoh noted that Onnoghen still remains the most senior person in the judiciary as he is not due for retirement for the next five years.
He added that while the three months elapses on Febuary 10, 2017, the Senate is on a working recess, and can therefore reconvene for the confirmation process, if the president forwards the name.
Non-confirmation of Onnoghen would bring the independence of the judiciary and security of tenure of judges to doubt and public discourse, would open the floodgate of political and social insinuations, in addition to entrenching the perception of ethno-regional prejudice and politicisation of the judiciary, the caucus cautioned.