Contrary to speculations, it has emerged at the weekend that it was President Muhammadu Buhari who directed Ag. President Yemi Osinbajo to proceed and submit Acting Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation to forestall any legal lacuna.
THISDAY has seen documents showing that on February 5, President Buhari wrote to the Acting President informing him of his earlier decision to appoint Onnoghen in acting capacity and that his tenure would expire at the end of the legally stipulated term of three months, which was just five days away. He therefore directed Osinbajo to forward Onnoghen’s name to the National Assembly for confirmation as chief justice.
The acting president consequently forwarded Onnoghen’s name to the National Assembly on the 7th of February requesting that he be confirmed.This was exclusively reported by THISDAY. His letter was however not read until February 21, when the Senate reconvened from a three-week break.
The request sent to the senate by the acting president for Onnoghen’s confirmation as CJN had fuelled insinuations in some quarters that had the President not been on leave, Onnoghen’s name would not have been sent for confirmation.
President Buhari had on November 10 last year named Onnoghen, the most senior justice of the Supreme Court, as acting CJN. His nomination was sequel to the retirement of Justice Mahmud Mohammed at the statutory age of 70.
The delay in forwarding his name to the Senate as the expiration of the three-month tenure approached fuelled anxiety, which was further heightened by speculations that the President was not disposed to making the 66-year-old justice – the first southerner to emerge CJN in line with the judiciary’s succession tradition in nearly 30 years – a substantive CJN.
At the time President Buhari proceeded on his medical vacation to London on January 19, Onnoghen’s three-month tenure was just 22 days away from expiration. With no words coming from the President and hints that a discreet probe of senior judges was ongoing, many had feared that Onnoghen’s fate was hanging in the balance and that the office of the chief justice may elude the South.
The National Judicial Council (NJC), which had nominated Onnoghen for the position, however re-nominated him on February 9, a day before the expiration of his three-month tenure.
The acting CJN is currently awaiting confirmation of his appointment by the Senate.