The dramatic suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammad Buhari, and the subsequent swearing-in of Justice Tanko Muhammed as the Acting CJN have evoked the memory of last year’s compulsory retirement of then acting Chief Judge of Abia State, Justice Obisike Orji.
The National Judicial Council had, at its 85th meeting held on March 14, 2018, sanctioned Justice Orji by forcing him to go on a compulsory retirement for allowing himself to be sworn in as the Acting Chief Judge of Abia State without being recommended by the council.
Both the suspension of Onnoghen and swearing-in of Muhammed in acting capacity by the President followed the same pattern of how Justice Theresa Uzokwe was suspended by the Abia State House of Assembly and Justice Orji subsequently sworn in as acting Chief Judge of the state by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.
While earlier placing Justice Orji on suspension in January 2018, the NJC said in a statement, “The suspension of the Chief Judge of Abia State (Justice Theresa Uzokwe) by the State House of Assembly without a prior recommendation by the National Judicial Council violates the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Consequently, the subsequent act of appointing and swearing-in of Hon. Mr. Justice Obisike Orji as the Acting Chief Judge is invalid for being unconstitutional.
“Furthermore, the conduct of Hon. Mr. Justice Obisike Orji in presenting himself to be sworn in raises potential questions of misconduct that Council is now looking into.
“Council therefore resolved to query and suspend the Hon. Mr. Justice Obisike Orji pending the outcome of its investigation.”
Later in March 2018, following further investigations by its panel, the NJC said, “Hon. Mr. Justice Obisike Oji was earlier queried by the council for allowing himself to be sworn in as acting Chief Judge, and thereby colluding in, and aiding an unconstitutional process.
“His reply was unsatisfactory and the council recommended his compulsory retirement.”
The NJC, also at the same meeting held on March 14, 2018, found Justice Uzokwe culpable and recommended her compulsory retirement.
The NJC also directed the third most senior judge in the judiciary of the state to step in as the Acting Chief Judge pending the conclusion of investigations of allegations of acts of misconduct levelled against Justices Uzokwe and Orji.
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