An Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has adjourned to June 3 the suit seeking an order stopping the appointment of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammed, as the substantive chief justice.
The court presided over by Inyang Ekwo made the adjournment after the lawyer representing the plaintiff, Malcolm Omirhobo, said he had through the court’s bailiff served all the defendants, except Justice Muhammed, with the suit and the court’s May 3 order for the Monday hearing.
Mr Omirhobo said due to the inability of the court’s bailiff to serve Mr Muhammad, he had filed an ex-parte application for substituted service of the court processes on the acting CJN.
But Mr Omirhobo later withdrew the ex-parte motion and had it struck out by the judge, following the concession of Mr Muhammed’s counsel, K.O. Ajayi, to accept service on his behalf in the open court.
Mr Omirhobo also withdrew his motion on notice seeking a restraining order against the acting CJN’s substantive appointment after the judge said he was more interested in the quick determination of the suit on merit than on interlocutory orders.
Mr Ekwo then gave the defendants 14 days to respond to the suit.
The judge adjourned hearing till June 3.
He ordered that hearing notices be served on all the parties that were absent from Monday’s proceedings.
The applicant in the suit with number FHC/ABJ/CS/420/2019 filed in April alleged that Mr Muhammad availed himself as a tool in the violation of the Constitution, especially with regards to the ‘illegal’ removal of the embattled Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen.
President Muhammadu Buhari had sworn in Mr Muhammad as the acting CJN after suspending Mr Onnoghen in January.
The president, with the consent of the National Judicial Council (NJC), had last month extended the acting tenure of Mr Muhammad by another three months.
The suit has the NJC, the Federal Judicial Service Commission, the President, Mr Muhammad, the Federal Government, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Senate as defendants.
The applicant is seeking the courts’ declaration that the Constitution never contemplated suspension or removal from office by an ‘exparte order’ of the court as one of the grounds for which the office of the Chief Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can become vacant.
The applicant also seeks a declaration that the suspension and/or removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria from office is a shared responsibility of the NJC, the President and the Senate.
The applicant added that “the President does not have the vires or power under the law to unilaterally suspend and/or remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria from office.”
He seeks an order restraining the Senate from confirming the appointment of Mr Muhammad as the substantive CJN.
After his controversial suspension, Mr Onnoghen was convicted by the Code of Conduct Tribunal for false asset declaration. The tribunal ordered his sack from office. It also ruled that he should forfeit his undeclared asset. Mr Onnoghen has appealed the ruling.
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