Federal lawmakers from Cross River State have said the perception of President Muhammadu Buhari as one guided by ethno-religious considerations in making public choices may be confirmed, should he fail to seek Senate’s confirmation of Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria before his tenure as acting head of the Supreme Court expires on February 10.
The lawmakers said this in Abuja on Tuesday at a press conference convened to urge Mr. Buhari (or the acting President, Yemi Osinbajo) to forward Mr. Onnghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation before February 10 when his tenure as acting CJN expires and he will be constitutionally illegible to continue on the bench.
Mr. Onnoghen, 66, is from Cross River State. He is the first southerner to come close to getting appointed CJN, in decades.
The National Judicial Council, in exercise of its powers under Section 231(1) of the 1999 Constitution, had on October 13, 2016 recommended Mr. Onnoghen as the next CJN to President Buhari on the expiration of Mahmud Muhammed’s tenure.
But against convention, Mr. Buhari rather swore in Mr. Onnoghen as acting CJN on Thursday, November 10, 2016, an appointment which will expire on Friday, February 10.
Speaking through John Enoh, a PDP Senator, the lawmakers said already, “There is a growing sentiment in certain quarters that Justice Onnoghen’s earned elevation to the rank of CJN is held in abeyance precisely because he is either not from a particular ethnic origin preferred by powerful forces or his said to be preferred by powerful forces or his profound and at times radical pronouncement make him too principled to occupy that exalted position.”
“The President’s inaction in this instance has acted as cannon fodder for those alluding to a vast conspiracy to deny Justice Onnoghen his earned position,” the lawmakers, numbering 11, added.
As political leaders, they continued, efforts should be made to build a fair and just society, devoid of sectional cleavages; a society where hard work and integrity are rewarded and not repudiated.
The lawmakers said they were worried by the “intriguing cobweb of uncertainties” enveloping the judiciary which, as they said. is a hallowed institution, the bastion of our democracy that “should be insulated from undue influence, politics and manipulation of political predators.”
Therefore, “We call on the Presidency to act in a decisive manner to reassure Nigerians that we are all equal and that if we are able to harness our God-given talents, that we can aspire to the highest position in our nation unencumbered by primordial forces. Justice Samuel Walter Onnoghen is eminently qualified to occupy the position of Chief Justice of Nigeria,” they said.
Mr. Onnoghen’s name should be transmitted to the Senate for confirmation “without further delay”, they urged the President, asking him to act “in clear and decisive manner”.
“Any action contrary to this will convey and validate growing sentiments of vendetta,” they said.
An event of the failure of the President to forward Mr. Onnoghen’s name to the Senate without any lawful and constitutional cause, the lawmakers said, would not only threaten the indenpendece of the Judiciary but also open “floodgate of political and social insinuations and entrenched the perception of ethno-regional prejudice and politicization of the judiciary. This is most unfortunate.”