End of the road for Onnoghen as NJC recommend compulsory retirement

  • Upholds Muhammed as CJN

The battle for survival by the troubled Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, has come to an end this Monday, as the National Judaical Council (NJC) made its  recommendation that Onnoghen should proceeded on compulsory retirement.

While recommending that compulsory retirement of Onnmoghen the National Judicial Commission (NJC) recommended the retention of Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed as substantive CJN.

The NJC had last week ordered Onnoghen and Justice Muhammed to respond to petitions against them within seven working days which heralded the elimination of the embattled CJN Onnoghen, and the endorsement of acting CJN Mohammed. The decisions are to be ratified at the NJC meeting this Monday.

National Daily gathered that a judiciary source had revealed that the NJC resolved that the suspended CJN should retire, even when the allegations against him have not been proved or he hasn’t been found guilty in the court of law.

The source was gathered to have also revealed that the NJC upheld that Justice Muhammad should continue as substantive CJN because the Council decided that the acting CJN has not committed any offence or breached any rule, noting that he only complied with a court order.

“He presented himself for swearing in based on a court order (CCT). He couldn’t have disobeyed a court order, which the president also relied on,” the source cited the NJC members to have argued.

The retention of Justice Muhammed will dash the hopes of some powerful forces in the South West, which had anticipated that the next most senior justice of the Supreme Court from the zone will be a beneficiary of the impasse, in the event of the retirement of Onnoghen and Muhammed.

Recommendation for Onnoghen’s retirement and retention of Muhammed are contrary to expectations of some lawyers who had canvassed that both justices ought to go to ensure clean slate in the impasse.

They cite the case of Abia State Chief Judge, where the NJC ordered the retirement of acting Chief Judge of Abia, Obisike Orji, for accepting the appointment when the State Chief judge, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, was suspended by the state government without its approval.

Senior lawyers, like former President, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) had petitioned the NJC over Muhammed’s appointment as Acting CJN. He had insisted that Tanko was wrong in presenting himself to be sworn in.

Also human rights activists, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Mr. Femi Falana, faulted the suspension of Onnoghen for being procedurally wrong.

Falana said: “I have had cause to call on the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) to withdraw the charge of false declaration of assets filed against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. The call was without prejudice to the merit of the serious allegations levelled against the Chief Justice. In line with decided judicial authorities I had wanted the National Judicial Council to investigate the allegations.”

Ozekhome argued that the removal of the CJN was a ploy to emasculate the judiciary by the government so as to get political advantage ahead of the general election.

The United States government and the European Union equally condemned Onnoghen’s suspension saying the move was in violation of the constitutional requirement for the removal of CJN

The US authorities said the development was a mockery of President Buhari and other Nigerian politicians’ commitment to free elections.

 A US statement said: “We note widespread Nigerian criticism that this decision is unconstitutional and that it undermines the independence of the judicial branch.

“That undercuts the stated determination of government, candidates, and political party leaders to ensure that the elections proceed in a way that is free, fair, transparent, and peaceful – leading to a credible result.”

In the sane vein, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association also flayed the move claiming that the constitutional procedures and due process stipulated for investigating a judicial officer in Nigeria were not followed.

The body contended that the government was entitled to charge members of the judiciary accused of criminal conduct, but that this should be done in a way that was “consistent with the rule of law and constitutional safeguards.

“The judiciary, like other members of society, may not be subjected to violations of their fundamental human rights no matter what the charges are against them,” the lawyers said.

Meanwhile, there is apprehension over Onnoghen’s appeal against his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) at the Court of Appeal, holding on Wednesday.