Court Fixes July 12 for Judgment in Suit against Acting CJN’s Appointment

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By Alex Enumah in Abuja

Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday fixed July 12, 2019 for judgment in the suit seeking to stop the appointment of Justice Tanko Muhammad, as substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).

Justice Ekwo fixed the date shortly after parties made their final submissions for and against the suit.

The suit was 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 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.

But in his response, Justice Muhammad who has been on acting capacity as CJN since January 25, following the suspension of the then CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, urged the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the plaintiff lacked the necessary locus standi to file the suit in the first place.

But the plaintiff in his argument submitted that he has every legal right to institute the suit.

In arguing his case earlier, Justice Muhammad submitted that his appointment as Acting CJN 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.

He equally submitted that President Buhari, who appointed 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-paragraphe 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 excercing 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).

Justice Muhammad, therefore prayed the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s suit against his appointment.