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Mass retirement of S/Court justices looms as Buhari plans to appoint CJN outside apex court

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– President Muhammadu Buhari appears set to break a judicial tradition

– The president is believed to have gone beyond the Bench to the Bar, in search of the next substan­tive Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN)

– There are indications that the President has rejected the nomination of the Acting CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen for the position

A report by The Authority indicates that President Muhammadu Buhari has rejected the nomination of the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen for the position.

President Buhari in a handshake with Justice Onnoghen when he was sworn in late last year

According to the report, the president is believed to have gone beyond the Bench to the Bar, in search of the next substantive CJN.

As the deadline of Febru­ary 10 for the president to confirm Justice Onnoghen as the CJN draws closer, the president is said to be shopping for a substantive CJN outside the Supreme Court.

Unnamed government sourc­es quoted in the report said Buhari has opted to pick a private legal practition­er of “impeccable” character from the South-South geopolitical zone as the new CJN.

One of the sources said: “by picking Justice Onnoghen’s replacement from the South-South region, it would disabuse the minds of Nigerians from the sentiment of Buhari promoting a Northern agenda in his adminis­tration.”

Onnoghen hails from Cross River state in the South-South re­gion.

Onnoghen was ap­pointed as CJN in acting capaci­ty late last year following the retirement of Jus­tice Mahmud Mohammed upon clocking the mandatory retire­ment age of 70.

The source alleged a grand plan to purge the Supreme Court Bench of justices who have soiled their hands with issues of bribery and corruption.

According to the source: “In the incoming weeks and months, there will be a massive compulso­ry retirement of some justices of the Supreme Court. This will pave way for fresh blood to be injected into the system.”

The source added that those to be appointed to the apex court’s Bench are judicial officers whose ideological leanings are tilted to­wards the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Meanwhile, the immediate past CJN, Justice Mohammed has cautioned against subvert­ing the age-long tradition of ap­pointing the most senior justice of the Supreme Court to head the country’s judiciary.

Justice Mohammed said: “Permit me to restate that Section 231 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is clear as to the procedure that must be followed in appointing a Justice of the Su­preme Court or indeed a substan­tive Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“The National Judicial Council recom­mends, the President of the Fed­eral Republic of Nigeria approves and the Senate confirms such ap­pointments.

“While I would admit that there is no constitutional restric­tion as to where those to be ap­pointed are selected from, the long held practice, which I dare­say had been apolitical, transpar­ent and fair, had been to appoint the most senior justice of the Su­preme Court to the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.”

“The idea that we can ap­point a legal practitioner, with­out the proven experience or the temperance of character de­veloped through the years of ac­tive participation in adjudication,

may indeed be fraught with risk, none greater than the risk of cre­ating another sinecure for par­ty loyalists or reducing the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria to one which can be‘lobbied’ for. This will undoubtedly and irre­versibly hurt our justice system and must be strenuously resisted”.

Another ex-CJN, Jus­tice Mohammed Uwais also criticised the idea of appointing a private legal practitioner to the apex court Bench.

According to Justice Uwais: “Part of the problem is not just the ability of the judge you want. There is the issue of integrity; if you have been a judge at the High Court or Court of Appeal before coming to the Supreme Court, you would have done cas­es, whether you are a corrupt person, which would have been discovered.

“And from your judg­ments also, the Court of Appeal would have known how good you are if you are at the High Court. But if you are a legal practitioner, you haven’t written any judgment. So, there is no way you can be as­sessed in that respect.

“Again, you are not under the supervision of anybody when it comes to integrity and those are the two points why we felt any­body who is at the Bar who wants to go to the Supreme Court, should come to the Bench; let him start from the lower Bench”.

Responding on behalf of the government, the special adviser to the president on prosecution, Mr Obono Obla, said that the is­sue of not confirming the acting CJN’s appointment was “specu­lative.”

Obla said that the Presiden­cy was yet to take any decision on the matter.

“The president is not aware of any plot to remove the acting CJN. I don’t know about that. It is a rumour. The only thing is that at the appropriate time, the fed­eral government will say some­thing about the position of the CJN,” he said.

 

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