The Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, ACJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad,
has said that suspended Justice Walter Onnoghen, remains the substantive
Chief Justice of Nigeria. Muhammad said he would step aside once the Code of Conduct Tribunal or the Appeal Court reverses Onnoghen’s matter.
He, however, claimed that President Muhammadu Buhari does not need
the permission of the National Judicial Council, NJC, to appoint an
acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
This was part of Justice Muhammad’s response to a query given to him by the NJC.
Justice Muhammad pointed out that the NJC ought to be consulted only when a substantive CJN is being appointed or re-appointed.
He said, “In my respectful view, the National Judicial Council has no
role to play in the appointment of an acting Chief Justice of Nigeria
in the first instance, that is to say on first appointment.
“The council comes in where the appointment as the acting CJN is to
be renewed or extended. I humbly refer to Section 231(4) of the 1999
“It was for the larger interest of the judiciary and the
constitutionality that I accepted to be sworn in as acting CJN with the
conviction that if the order of January 23, 2019 is eventually set
aside, the status quo would be restored.
“But before it is set aside, there should be no vacuum in the office of the CJN and the chairman of the NJC.
“On January 25, 2019, I was summoned to the Aso Villa at the instance
of the President. Prior to the summons, I was not aware of the fact
that the Code of Conduct Tribunal made any order on January 23, 2019.
“Furthermore, beyond what I read in the newspapers and watched on the
television just like any other Nigerian, I was not privileged to see
any of the processes filed by the parties before the tribunal. Hence, I
could not really appreciate the merit or demerit of divergent positions.
“On the 25th day of January, the President swore me in as the acing
CJN and not as the substantive CJN. Justice Walter Onnoghen remains the
CJN until he is removed from office in accordance with the provision of
the constitution. He is only suspended.”
The Acting CJN said that he was a member of the NJC panel that
removed Justice Obisike Orji of the Abia State High Court for accepting
to be sworn in as chief judge by the Abia State Government without a
recommendation of the NJC but added that his own case was different
because he was only appointed as an acting CJN.
Muhammad appealed to the NJC to throw aside the petition written
against him by a group, Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative.
The group had written a petition to the NJC, demanding that the council to remove Muhammad as a justice of the Supreme Court.
They said Muhammad compromised by allowing himself to be sworn in by the President without recourse to the NJC.