Andrew Orolua, Abuja
As the struggle to upturn the decision that removed Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) ranges on, a Non – Governmental Organisation have approached the Federal High Court Abuja seeking to inhibit the appointment of Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Code of Conduct Tribunal last month, in its judgment legally removed Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) even though he had resigned his appointment as a judicial officer, two weeks earlier before the judgment .
Even before the judgment, the fact that he was put under suspension on January 23, 2019 robbed him the powers to exercise authority as the Chief Justice of Nigeria. So it can be said that in the past five months the Judiciary has no substantive head.
Until his appeals before the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division and possible appeals at the Supreme Court are legally resolved, the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal confiscating his property can not be said to be final.
What is final for now, is that Justice Onnoghen will never return as the Chief Justice of Nigeria following two occurrences or events.
First, the fact that he remain suspended by President Muhammad Buhari who is yet to consider the recommendations of the National Judicial Council (NJC) disciplinary committee.
Secondly, by his own resignation Justice Onnoghen ceased to be a judicial officer. These facts are now clear to keen observers of the emerging developments that are reshaping the Judiciary or worsting its already bad image on the eyes of the public.
Though, not detached from happening and scheming between different groups within the Judiciary , the recent suit by the Board of Incorporated Trustees of Malcolm Omirhobo Foundation against the National Judicial Council(NJC), Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad , Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammad Buhari, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
It is difficult to understand real motive of the plaintiff or whether the objective of the suit is to advance the cause of the Judiciary.
However, one thing look certain .Assuming that all the appeals filed by Justice Onnoghen progresses to the apex Court, it will take not less than five years to resolve them.
Between now and the next five years are we saying that the Judiciary can afford to operate without a substantive head, in a country where the two other arms of government continues to oppress it and in most obvious situation have tried to subdue it even in the face of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended that guaranteed each arms of the government independent.
Chief Malcom Omirhobo who brought the recent action as a human rights lawyer, may have the locus standi to file the fresh suit at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court seeking to bar President Muhammadu Buhari from appointing Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad as the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria CJN.
National Judicial Council (NJC) at the weekend extended the appointment of Justice Ibrahim Muhammad as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria by three months following the directive of the presidency.
But, in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/420/2019, the plaintiff is praying the court to declare that Justice Muhammad who is currently the most senior jurist at the Supreme Court, is unfit to replace the sacked CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
Omirhobo is also praying the court to declare that the Acting CJN, Justice Muhammad, having made himself available as a tool that was used in the violation of the Constitution, especially with regards to the “illegal” removal of the former CJN, is therefore not a proper and fit person to be recommended for appointment to head the judiciary.
It is the contention of the plaintiff that the Acting CJN conducted himself in a manner that reduced the confidence of the public in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary.
The 1st to 7th defendants in the suit were the National Judicial Council (NJC), the Federal Judicial Service Commission(FJSC), the Acting CJN Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, the Federal Government of Nigeria, President Buhari, the Attorney General of the Federation, and the National Assembly.
The plaintiff, among other things, urged the court to declare that the suspension and/or removal of a CJN from office, is a shared responsibility of the 1st Defendant (NJC), the 5th defendant (Buhari) and 7th Defendant (National Assembly).
He argued that President Buhari lacked the Constitutional powers to unilaterally suspend and/or the removal a sitting CJN from office, as was done in the case of Justice Onnoghen.
He further prayed the court to declare that by combined interpretation sections 1(1 )(2), 231(4), 292(1)(a)(i)(b), 153(1)(i), 158(1) and paragraph 21 (a)(b) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, “it is unlawful and undemocratic for the 4th and 5th Defendants (Federal Government and President Buhari), to declare the office of the CJN vacant on January 25, 2019 and consequently appoint and swear in the 3rd defendant as the acting CJN”.
He, therefore, applied for a court order to restrain the National Assembly from confirming any appointment of Justice Muhammad as the substantive CJN. Likewise, for, “An order, compelling the 2nd Defendant (FJSC), to select and the 1st defendant (NJC), to recommend the most qualified Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria that is fit and proper, to the 5th defendant, for appointment to office of the CJN, and for the confirmation of the 7th defendant with a two-thirds majority vote”.
Aside praying the court to bar President Buhari from appointing Justice Muhammad as the substantive CJN, the Plaintiff, in a 65-paragraph affidavit he filed in support of the suit, stressed that unless restrained by the court, the Executive Arm of Government would continue to violate the extant provisions of the Constitution and sanctity of the judiciary.
Justice Inyang Ekwo who the matter was assigned to, has heard an exparte application brought by the plaintiff who sought the following orders: An order asking the court to restrain President Muhammadu Buhari from appointing Justice Ibrahim Muhammad as the CJN.
The plaintiff also asked the court to stop Justice Muhammad’s appointment as CJN, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed by the foundation.
They also asked for an order of interim injunction restraining the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (7th defendant) from confirming the appointment of Justice Muhammad as CJN pending the determination of the substantive suit challenging his appointment.
In his ruling on the exparte motion , Justice Ekwo said that haven read through the affidavit in support of the motion sworn to by Chief Malcolm Emokiniovo Omirhobo,he was of view that: “None of the prayers made on this motion exparte can be granted in the absence of the defendants”.
The judge therefore ordered the National Judicial Council (NJC), Federal Judicial Service Commission, Justice Muhammad, Federal Government, President Buhari Attorney General of the Federation and the Senate, who are the first to seven defendants in the motion to be put on notice to show cause why the plaintiff prayers should not be granted.
Nigerians are demanding a fearless and corrupt free Judiciary that will put the country on the path of justice. The earlier the Judiciary achieve the objective of dispensing true justice without favour and delay, the better for this country. Let the Judiciary be.