Acting CJN Served in Court over Suit against His Appointment

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Justice Tanko Muhammad

Alex Enumah in Abuja

The Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, was yesterday served with a suit seeking to stop President Muhammadu Buhari from appointing him (Muhammad) as substantive CJN.

The Board of Incorporated Trustees of Malcolm Omirhobo Foundation had in an exparte motion filed on April 15, 2019, asked the court to stop Justice Muhammad’s appointment as CJN, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed by the foundation.

The plaintiff also asked for an order of interim injunction restraining the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (7th defendant) from confirming the appointment of Justice Muhammad as CJN, pending the determination of the substantive suit challenging his appointment.

But the trial judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo, had in a ruling delivered on May 6, 2019, on the exparte application, however, ordered the plaintiff to put the defendants on notice, stressing that none of the prayers made on the motion exparte can be granted in the absence of the defendants.

Justice Ekwo also ordered that the defendants appear before him on May 13, 2019 (yesterday) to show cause why the exparte application should not be granted.

Defendants in the suit to be served with the hearing notice include, the National Judicial Council (NJC), Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), Justice Muhammad, the Federal Government of Nigeria, President Buhari, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Senate of the National Assembly.

However, when the matter came up yesterday, one Elizabeth Jonathan, announced appearance for the NJC, while one Saleh Sule, represented the FJSC.

Another lawyer, K. O. Ajayi, who announced appearance for the Acting CJN, informed the court that though his client was yet to be served with the process, he however came to court when he got wind of the matter.

He agreed to be served with the process on behalf of the Acting CJN and was subsequently served inside the courtroom.

Following the service of all parties in the matter, and the subsequent application of the applicant and plaintiff to withdraw the exparte application, Justice Ekwo then struck out the exparte application and adjourned to June 3, 2019, for commencement of hearing of the substantive suit.

The plaintiff also asked for an order of interim injunction restraining the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (7th defendant) from confirming the appointment of Justice Muhammad as CJN pending the determination of the substantive suit challenging his appointment.

The plaintiff in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/420/2019, had prayed the court to declare that the Acting CJN, Justice Muhammad, having made himself available as a tool that was used in the violation of the constitution, especially with regards to the alleged illegal removal of the former CJN, is therefore not a proper and fit person to be recommended for appointment to head the judiciary.

The rights activist further prayed the court to declare that the suspension and/or removal of a CJN from office, is a shared responsibility of the 1st Defendant (NJC), the 5th defendant (Buhari) and 7th Defendant (National Assembly).

He argued that President Buhari lacked the constitutional powers to unilaterally suspend and/or remove a sitting CJN from office, as was done in the case of Onnoghen.

Omirhobo therefore sought an order of court restraining the National Assembly from confirming any appointment of Justice Muhammad as the substantive CJN.