Sunday, March 31, 2019

Onnoghen: Crisis Brewing As CJN Tanko’s Tenure Set To Expire

Onnoghen: Crisis Brewing As CJN Tanko’s Tenure Set To Expire

Nigeria may experience a strong constitutional instability in less than 3weeks as the tenure of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria(CJN), Justice Muhammad Tanko, is abot to end end shortly.

Recall that Muhammad was inaugurated on 25th of January, 2019 by the incubent President Muhammadu Buhari following an order by the Code of Conduct Tribunal that the substantive CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, be suspended and the next in line of seniority, be sworn in.

Even though, the constitution states that the President cannot re-appoint an acting CJN unless on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council.

Section 231(4) and (5) states, “If  the  office  of  Chief  Justice  of  Nigeria  is  vacant or  if  the  person  holding  the  office  is  for  any  reason  unable  to perform  the  functions  of  the  office,  then  until a  person  has been  appointed  to  and  has assumed  the  functions  of  that office,  or  until the  person  holding  has resumed  those  functions,  the  President shall  appoint the  most senior  Justice  of the  Supreme  Court to  perform  those  functions.

“Except on  the  recommendation  of  the  National  Judicial  Council,  an  appointment pursuant to  the  provisions  of subsection (4) of  this  section  shall  cease  to  have  effect after  the  expiration  of  three  months  from  the  date  of  such appointment,  and  the  President shall  not re-appointment a  person  whose  appointment has  lapsed.”

Onnoghen and Muhammad are facing an investigation by the National Judicial Council(NJC) - the panel responsible for the discipline and appointment of judges.

Meanwhile, Onnoghen was given a query by the NJC to respond to allegations on his failure to declare some of his assets as demanded by law. On the other hand, the acting CJN, Muhammad was asked to respond to a query on why he allowed himself to be sworn in by Buhari without the recommendation of the NJC as stipulated by the constitution.

Onnoghen has challenged his suspension before the Court of Appeal but the appellate court has withheld judgment for unknown reasons while the case before the CCT has been given an accelerated hearing.

Buhari will only be able to extend Justice Muhammad’s tenure if the NJC sends his name to the President for confirmation.

The President will subsequently be expected to send his name to the Senate for confirmation.

However, the current Senate, led by Senate President Bukola Saraki, has been at loggerheads with the executive branch.

The upper chamber of the National Assembly harshly criticised Buhari for suspending Onnoghen and had even threatened to drag the executive arm of government to the Supreme Court.

According to Punch, reliable sources in the Presidency feared that if Buhari nominates Muhammad as the CJN to the Senate, the current set of lawmakers would likely reject his nomination.

The current Senate will expire in June, and Saraki, who lost re-election, will not be part of the 9th Senate.

Interacting with Punch on Saturday, however, Chief Robert Clarke (SAN) said it was too early to speculate as the NJC still had three weeks.

Clarke said the constitution is clear that the appointment of judges should be on the basis of seniority and since Onnoghen remained under suspension, the NJC would have to extend the tenure of Justice Muhammad, who is also being probed by the council.

He said, “The Constitution will not allow a vacuum in any instance. It says the most senior judge will take over as acting CJN. After three months, the NJC can recommend another three months. He has no definitive tenure. It only said if the position is not vacant, the most senior must act.

The NJC can recommend Tanko (Muhammad) again. I know the NJC will do the right thing. They know more than you and I, they know what to do. The constitution says the most senior. So, the NJC cannot recommend just anyone. Let’s not speculate.”

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