Presidency nominates Onnoghen as substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria

Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen
Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has nominated Walter Onnoghen as the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria, ushering in the first southern head of the apex court in about 30 years.

The decision was announced in a tweet from President Muhammadu Buhari’s handle shortly before noon Wednesday. It came a day after Mr. Osinbajo’s office told PREMIUM TIMES Mr. Onnoghen’s name could still be forwarded before the February 10 deadline stipulated by the Constitution.

“Hon. Justice W.S. Onnoghen’s name has been sent to the Senate for confirmation as the next CJN,” the tweet said with an accompanying link to Mr. Onnoghen’s biography on the Supreme Court website.

The announcement came four months after Mr. Onnoghen was first recommended to Mr. Buhari as the next head of the country’s judiciary.

The delay would have triggered an automatic constitutional provision that could block the president from proceeding with the nomination process by February 10.

The president’s delay in nominating Mr. Onnoghen as substantive chief judge despite the NJC recommendation fuelled allegations of ethnic bias against Mr. Buhari.

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

Wednesday’s announcement is expected to douse that criticism.

The jurist will now await a confirmation by the Senate to assume duty as substantive chief judge. Although the Senate is on recess till February 21, an emergency sitting could be called to ensure early resolution of the controversy.


Efforts to reach Senate President Bukola Saraki on the confirmation letter and process were unsuccessful as at the time of this report. His media aide, Yusuf Olaniyonu, did not  pick or return calls to his phone.

Mr. Onnoghen is the first CJN from Southern Nigeria since Ayo Irikefe retired from the position in 1987.

The Supreme Court website said Mr. Onnoghen was born on December 22, 1950 in Okurike Town, Biase Local Government Area of Cross Rivers State.
He attended the Presbyterian Primary School, Okurike Town between 1959 and 1965.
He later proceeded to Accra, Ghana to attend Odorgorno Secondary School, Adabraka, Accra, Ghana between 1967 and 1972 for his West African Examination Council (WAEC) Exams.

He was at Accra Academy, Accra Ghana between 1972 and 1974 for his WAEC (A-Levels) before proceeding to the University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana between 1974 and 1977 to obtain his Bachelor of Law Degree (LL.B (Hons)) and graduated with 2nd Class Upper Division.

He attended the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos between 1977 and 1978 for his B.L certificate.

Her previous professional appointments/positions held include:

Pupil State Counsel, Ministry of Justice, Ikeja, Lagos, Ogun State (1978 – 1979)

Partner in the Law Firm of Effiom Ekong & Company, Calabar (1979 – 1988)

Principal Partner/Head of Chamber of Walter Onnoghen & Associates, Calabar (1988 -1989)

High Court Judge, Cross Rivers State Judiciary (1989 – 1998)

Chairman, Cross Rivers State Armed Robbery and Fire Arms Tribunal (1990 – 1993)

Chairman, Judicial Enquiry into the Crisis between Student of the University of Calabar and Obufa Esuk Orok Community, Calabar (1996)

Chairman, Failed Bank Tribunal, Ibadan Zone (1998)

Judge, High Court of Rivers State (1992 – 2004)

Justice of the Court of Appeal (1998 – 2005).

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