*Acting CJN may face adverse ‘security report’
Pressure has continued to mount on President Muhammadu Buhari to forward the name of the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to the National Assembly to be confirmed as the substantive CJN before February 10.
Onnoghen, who is presently the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, is the first Southern jurist to qualify for the judiciary top-job in about 30 years. However, his confirmation as the substantive CJN seems to hang in the balance owing to alleged moves by “some highly-placed forces,” to sideline him to enable a northern jurist to take over. A top source at the apex court told our reporter last night that “conspiracy” to push Onnoghen out upon expiration of his acting tenure has further thickened.
According to the source who craved anonymity, “Emergence of Onnoghen as the substantive CJN is now in the hands of God. I can authoritatively tell you that the plan is to frustrate his validation by the National Assembly until February 11. “As I am talking to you, there is fear that those bent on ensuring that a Southerner does not head the judiciary at this point in time, especially during the tenure of President Buhari, may have concocted adverse security report against Justice Onnoghen.
“Their plan is to submit the security report, which will raise sundry corruption allegations against Justice Onnoghen to the Senate, few days to the expiration of the three months acting period.” Specifically, going by section 321(5) of the 1999 Constitution, Onnoghen will vacate his position as the acting head of the judiciary in 33 days time. The section provides that the appointment “shall cease to have effect after the expiration of three months from the date of such appointment, and the President shall not re-appoint a person whose appointment has lapsed.”
Buhari had on November 10, 2016, okayed Onnoghen to head the judiciary in acting capacity following retirement of the immediate past CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed. Already, a Lagos based lawyer, Chief Malcolm Omirhobo, has gone to court to challenge President Buhari’s delay in forwarding Onnoghen’s name to the National Assembly for confirmation. Omirhobo is praying the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, to compel President Buhari to immediately forward Onnoghen’s to the Senate. Remarkably, the next in rank to Justice Onnoghen is a northerner, Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, who hails from Bauchi State.
Justice Ayo Irikefe, who held sway as the CJN in 1985, was the last Southerner that headed the apex court. After him, subsequent occupants of the position came from the North. Justice Mohammed Bello took over from Irikefe from 1987 to1995, Justice Muhammadu Uwais served between 1995 and 2006; Justice Alfa Belgore (2006-2007), Justice Idris Kutigi (2007-2009), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu (2009-2011), Justice Aloma Mukhtar (2012-2014) and Justice Mahmud Mohammed, who served from 2014 till November 10, 2016. Meanwhile, among those asking President Buhari to forward Onnoghen’s name for confirmation include retired Judges and Senior Advocates of Nigeria. A retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Olufunlola Adekeye had earlier stressed that non- confirmation of Onnoghen as the substantive CJN was capable of truncating reforms in the judicial sector.