President Muhammadu Buhari has extended the appointment of Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) by another three months.
The president had sent the recommendation to the National Judicial Council (NJC), the supervisory body, to approve the appointment on Thursday, a spokesman of the NJC, Soji Oye, said in a statement yesterday in Abuja.
LEADERSHIP Sunday recalls that the president had appointed Justice Muhammad in January 2019 after he suspended Justice Walter Onnoghen, who was accused of false declaration of asset.
Mr Onnoghen was convicted last week by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, which barred him from holding public office for 10 years.
He has, however, denied all allegations against him, and has appealed the ruling.
Mixed reactions as NJC appoint Muhammad as CJN
There was mixed reactions yesterday shortly after the appointment of Justice Tanko Muhammad as the acting CJN.
While some lawyers hailed the appointment, others said the leadership of the Judiciary and the NJC itself had been compromised.
According to some of the lawyers, the judiciary now has two sets of rules in dealing with the same issue.
An Abuja-based lawyer, Magnus Nmuta, hailed the appointment, adding that there cannot be a vacuum in the leadership of the judiciary.
To him, President Buhari has done brilliantly in the fight against corruption, especially in the judiciary, and should be commended.
‘’No doubt, there are bad eggs in the judiciary that need to be flushed out in both the bar and the bench. With the conviction of the retired CJN last week, lawyers and judicial officers with corrupt tendencies will surely have a re-think’’, he said.
Another lawyer, Barrister Abdulmajid Inuwah, also welcomed the appointment of Justice Muhammad, adding that the country must be rid of corruption.
‘’The NJC has taken a step in the right direction with the appointment of Justice Muhammad. It is corruption that has led us to where we are today and by every means possible we should fight it’’, he said.
But on his part, a United States-based lawyer, Mr. Emmanuel Ogebe, believes that former Justice Onnoghen was eased out to pave the way for a CJN of northern extraction.
According to him, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari never wanted Justice Onnoghen to become the CJN, as he was a southerner.
He said, ‘’I reliably learnt that some had vowed that His Lordship Onnoghen would never be CJN. His ascension under Osinbajo’s acting presidency was an aberration to be corrected.
‘’Onnoghen was undermined and witch-hunted throughout his tenure. Congratulations to the caliphate and the cabal for a mission accomplished. May God bless and have mercy on the soul of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’’.
Another lawyer, James Agomi, in his reaction, condemned the NJC for the position it took in the crisis that rocked the judiciary in the last three months.
He said ,”The same scenario we have now played out in the case of the Chief Judge of Abia State when he was sacked and another justice appointed by the governor of the state.
‘’In Abia State, both the one that was sacked and the one that was appointed by the governor were hammered by the NJC.
‘’In the case of Justice Onnoghen and Tanko Muhammad, why was the decision different. It is simply a case of two different rules for same situation.
‘’President Buhari suspended Justice Onnoghen – which he has no power to do, and appointed Justice Muhammad and the next thing the NJC did was to accept the suspension and ratify the appointment; it is wrong’’.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Femi Ali, believes there is nothing unlawful in the extension of the tenure of Justice Muhammad by President Buhari on the recommendation of the NJC.
He said, “The 1999 constitution, as amended, is very clear on steps to be taken whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria; that is, the most senior Justice of the apex court takes over in an acting capacity until a substantive CJN is appointed by the president on the recommendation of the NJC and the confirmation of the National Assembly.
“But in a case like in the present one where the process to fill the vacancy is not yet to be completed, the tenure of the acting CJN is by law to be extended by the President on the recommendation of the NJC.
“I believe the President and the NJC have done the right thing by virtue of section 231(4) of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution. Since Justice Walter Onnoghen had resigned and Justice Muhammad had been cleared of any wrongdoing, the need to extend Muhammad’s acting tenure, which ends on April 25, is very urgent to avert a vacuum.
“I believe it is time for the third arm of government to move on and close ranks. The crisis was well managed by the NJC because it could have polarised the judiciary.”
Ali added that what was needed was an institutional reform that would insulate Judicial officers from politics and also weed out corrupt elements from the bench.
“I must also warn that the other arms of government must not be allowed to initiate or hijack the process. The independence of the judiciary must be strengthened and advanced,” Ali said.
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