Three days to a constitutional deadline to confirm Walter Onnoghen as substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria, the presidency has given the clearest indication yet that it may still confirm the judge.
The spokesperson to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, Laolu Akande, gave this indication on Monday in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
When asked if Mr. Onnoghen’s name will be submitted by the acting president to the Senate before the February 10 deadline, Mr. Akande said, “There is still time, today is February 6, we will find out what will happen, there is still time.”
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how Mr. Onnoghen’s role as Acting Chief Justice will lapse on February 10 after which President Muhammadu Buhari or Mr. Osinbajo as acting president would be unable to submit the judge’s name to the Senate any more based on a constitutional provision.
Several lawyers and activists have since condemned the president for not submitting Mr. Onnoghen’s name and not addressing Nigerians on reasons for his inaction, since the name was forwarded to him in October, 2016 by the National Judicial Council, NJC.
Influential statesman, Abubakar Umar, advised the NJC not to submit any other name to the president should he fail to submit Mr Onnoghen’s name to the Senate as appropriate.
“Already, many analysts view this action as a ploy to deny a Southerner his right to succession based on his seniority in keeping with the appointment protocol observed (by) the NJC in making the appointment,” Mr. Umar, a retired colonel, said.
“In the event of this occurrence, the NJC must not forward any other name nor should the Senate confirm any other nominee.”
Also at its meeting on January 31, the Yoruba Socio-Political group, Afenifere, condemned Mr. Buhari for ‘refusing’ to forward the recommendations of the National Judicial Council for the confirmation of Mr. Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“Afenifere is worried that almost few days to the end of the three months tenure in acting capacity allowed by our constitution, the President has refused to forward the recommendations of the NJC in respect of Justice Onnoghen to the National Assembly for confirmation.
“We see this as an assault on the constitution if the three months tenure expires and he is not confirmed as the CJN of Nigeria.
“It is an attempt to cruelly end the career of a worthy Nigerian. Therefore, we call on the President to within the few days left to the expiration of the tenure of the Acting CJN to send his name to the Senate for confirmation as Nigeria’s CJN,” the group said.
Mr. Onnoghen has also spoken on the controversy, asking Nigerians not to pressure Mr. Buhari into submitting his name as substantive chief justice.
Many Nigerians had expected President Buhari to arrive Nigeria by Monday when he was scheduled to resume after an announced 10 working days vacation. The president was expected to, upon his arrival on February 6, address the controversy surrounding the appointment of the head of Nigeria’s judiciary.
However, the onus now lies on Mr. Osinbajo to act after Mr. Buhari extended his vacation.
It was in reaction to what action his principal would take that Mr. Akande made the statement.
Mr. Akande also spoke on the media report that Mr. Onnoghen has been cleared by the State Security Service, SSS (also called DSS), of any wrongdoing.
“I did not know of any investigations and I am not going to talk on that,” he said.
Mr. Onnoghen has also said he is not aware he was investigated or cleared by the SSS.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Monday, his media assistant, Awassam Bassey, said he was not in the know of any investigation of his principal by the SSS or of any report on him.
“We were just informed through the media like yourself. I was just with His Lordship and we were looking at it. Frankly speaking, we are not the source quoted in that report.
“I don’t have any information as to where that report is coming from,” Mr. Bassey said.
A report by The Nation newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying that Mr. Onnoghen was investigated by the SSS and that he had been given a ‘clean bill of health’.
“All hurdles against the nomination of Justice Walter Onnoghen as CJN have been resolved. He has been absolved of all allegations against him.
“As a matter of fact, the nomination was delayed as a result of the need to address these allegations. Now, Justice Onnoghen has been given a clean bill of health.
“Every allegation was investigated and proofs indicated that Onnoghen has no case to answer. The government went to this extent to ensure that the holder of the office of CJN is above board,” the report stated.
The SSS is known to conduct background investigations on public office holders including judges, ahead of their appointments, in line with its constitutional obligation to ensure the security of Nigeria.