By Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, on Monday, told the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court that his appointment by President Mohammmadu Buhari in January, this year was in line with the provisions of the law.
Justice Muhammad made the submission in his reply to a suit challenging his appointment as Acting CJN.
The suit filed by the Board of Incorporated Trustees of Malcolm Omirhobo Foundation, an advocacy group.
The plaintiff in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/420/2019, urged the court to declare that 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, was therefore not a proper and fit person to be recommended for appointment to head the judiciary.
But in his reply to the suit Monday, Muhammad, told the court that his appointment was made shortly after the former CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen was suspended from office based on the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) which heard the case of false asset declaration against Onnoghen, adding that President Buhari, who appointment him is legally vested with the powers to suspend a CJN, including Onnoghen.
The CCT had in an exparte application directed Buhari to suspend Onnoghen pending the hearing and determination of corruption charges against him and appoint the most senior justice, (Muhammad) to replace Onnoghen as CJN.
In a 39-paragraphed counter-affidavit that was deposed to by one Sadiq Ahmad, the Acting CJN, argued that President Buhari, being the appointing authority, “has the power to remove or suspend any person occupying the office of the CJN”.
Muhammad further submitted that in exercising his powers to suspend a CJN, the President need not seek the approval of the National Judicial Council (NJC), or the Federal Judicial Service Commission, (FJSC).
Justice Muhammad equally maintained that there was also no need for President Buhari to approach the Senate “for support by majority of two-third votes, before the erstwhile CJN could be suspended from office”.
“That the 5th Defendant (Buhari) followed due process of law in the appointment of the 3rd Defendant as the Acting CJN.
“That the 5th Defendant has extended the appointment of the 3rd Defendant as the Acting CJN, by another three months, upon the recommendation of the 1st Defendant (NJC).
“I know as a fact that there had not been any negative impact on the Nigerian Judiciary as there is renewed belief by the common man in the judiciary as his last hope”, the Acting CJN added.
Justice Muhammad, therefore prayed the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s suit against his appointment.
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.