Hours after the presidency confirmed that Walter Onnoghen’s name had been sent to the Senate for confirmation as Nigeria’s Chief Justice, the National Judicial Council, NJC, asked that he remains in acting capacity until his confirmation.
Mr. Onnoghen was due to vacate his role as acting chief justice on February 10 unless he was confirmed as substantive chief justice or his acting role was renewed based on a recommendation of the NJC.
The NJC after its meeting on Wednesday wrote to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo seeking continuation of Mr. Onnoghen’s role as acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, multiple officials sources told PREMIUM TIMES.
The NJC recommendation will enable Mr. Onnoghen continue in acting position pending his confirmation as substantive Chief Justice by the Senate.
“The NJC wrote to the acting president today in order to beat the deadline of the expiration of the previous letter and for him to continue acting as the CJN while awaiting confirmation by the Senate,” a top judiciary official told PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday night.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Osinbajo dispatched a notice of Mr. Onnoghen’s nomination to the Senate.
“Hon. Justice W.S. Onnoghen’s name has been sent to the Senate for confirmation as the next CJN,” the presidency said in a tweet shortly before noon Wednesday.
The announcement came four months after Mr. Onnoghen was first recommended to Mr. Buhari as the next head of the country’s judiciary.
The president had until February 10 to recommend Mr. Onnoghen as substantive chief justice or the latter loses the position based on a constitutional provision.
The president’s delay in nominating Mr. Onnoghen as substantive chief judge despite the NJC recommendation fuelled allegations of ethnic bias and criticisms against Mr. Buhari.
NO PLAN TO CUT SHORT RECESS —SENATORS
Although, like many Nigerians, the Senate keenly anticipated Mr. Onnoghen’s nomination for weeks, it will not reconvene to quickly deliberate on his fate, sources said.
The Senate embarked on a three-week recess on January 26 to give members extra time to work on the 2017 budget which is still under consideration in both chambers of the parliament.
But multiple senators in separate interviews with PREMIUM TIMES acknowledged that the Senate received the president’s letter on Mr. Onnoghen, but his confirmation hearing could wait until lawmakers returned from recess on February 21.
“Today is Wednesday and no message has gone out to senators that they must reconvene by tomorrow,” the source said. “Clearly, that tells you that we won’t be doing anything about it this week.”
“The letter we received will not be read on the floor of the Senate until February 21.”
Another senator said there was no need to expedite the process, especially as the NJC had written to the presidency seeking an extension of Mr. Onnoghen’s role as acting chief justice.
“I learnt that the NJC already wrote to the president that the judge should continue acting until we confirm him,” the source said. “Frankly, I don’t see the need for any rush.”
The Senate had also refused to cut short its recess despite receiving a letter from President Buhari to extend his medical vacation in the UK.
Senate spokesperson Aliyu Sabi said the lawmakers would only discuss the president’s letter after their resumption on February 21.
Poised for confirmation
A member of Senate judiciary committee told PREMIUM TIMES Mr. Onnoghen “will most likely be confirmed” because “we know him as an incorruptible and upright judge.”
“He is qualified to head the Supreme Court and we will give him all the support he needs to scale through,” the source said.
Mr. Onnoghen’s nomination is likely to be forwarded to the Senate Judiciary Committee for initial actions, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.