By Elizabeth Chukwuma
Walter Onnoghen, Convicted Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, may have finally lost his exalted position. Recall that Dalandi Umar, a senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Chairman of the three-man Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, has handed over over a ten-year ban on him from holding public office , last Thursday., April 18. 2019., which finally removed him as the CJN.
Political watchers believe that he lost his exalted position the moment Umar, read out the verdict of the tribunal to him. This may have strengthened the resolve of President Muhammadu Buhari, of the ruling All Progressive , to quickly request for an extension by three months of Justice Tanko Mohammad, the acting CJN, from the National Judicial Council., NJC, The NJC, members were said to have met immediately after the CCT handed down the Judgment on the former CJN, to deliberate on the Katsina state born Nigerian President’s request. The NJC did not hesitate in giving the approval . Many believe that the request was just a mere formality as he could do it without t seeking the approval of the NJC.
Soji Oye, the Council Director of Information disclosed that the ”approval followed several hours of deliberations during a meeting on Thursday, April 18, 2019, to look into the President’s request for extension of Mohammad’s tenure as acting CJN for an additional three months.
Oye said the Council has since ”forwarded its approval to the President”. Not many people were surprised that the President quickly requested the NJC , to extend the tenure of Justice Mohammed by another three months going by the celebrations in the Presidency over the Conviction of Onnoghen , the former CJN at the CCT. The worry of political Observers was that the quick succession with which the whole matter was settled in less than 24 hours after the Tribunal gave its Judgment to resolve the issue of who would be in-charge of the Supreme Court and Head of the Nation’s Judiciary speaks volume.
The Presidential request and the NJC meeting on
Many believe that with the abrupt removal of the former CJN by the President through the CCT, he would lose all his entitlements going by the Tribunal verdict that has been banned from holding public office for ten years. John Okoro, a Lagos businessman noted that n if he had listened to the earlier advise of the NJC, to resign his appointment, without waiting for the Tribunal to remove him , he would have been paid all his entitlements as a former CJN. The Statement by Femi Adesina, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity was very instructive. Adesina who tried to to distance Buhari from the Onnoghen saga by insisting that he never ”sacked him as alleged in certain quarters insisted that the former Cross River state born Justice was still a sitting a CJN as at the time when the government filed the six count charges against him at the Tribunal.
Adesina argument may not hold water as critics insist that the government jumped the gu and went straight to the CCT to prosecute the former CJN ostensibly to humiliate him and the Judiciary , which is the third arm of government. The other arms of government were are the Executive and the Legislature.
Note that the Constitution was very clear on how an airing member of the bench who has contravened the law could be removed. It provided that it is only the NJC, that has the ”powers to discipline and remove a judicial officer. In the Onnoghen saga, the government had used the CCT, which is an agency of government to remove him from office.
The former CJN , who has filed notice of Appeal, against the CCT judgment is optimistic that the Appeal Court would reverse the tribunal decision on him to enable him resign honourably from the service. Legal experts fear that the presidency would follow the Onnoghen ‘s case to the Supreme Court because of their interest in it. from the onset they saw him as a threat to the Administration ‘s anti-corruption war because of the delays in many Corruption cases brought against some individuals , regarded as power brokers in the society , by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, an anti-graft agency of the government . Given his legal experience and years on the Bench, Onnoghen , may not want his years in the country’s public service to be a waste for stepping on powerful toes and therefore to pursue the case to its logical conclusion. . Nigerians are watching to see how the Onnoghen matter will end in the regular Court.
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