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N.J.C. Extend Onnoghen’s status as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (C.J.N)


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 The long awaited expectation has finally come as the National Judicial Council, (NJC) on Wednesday, requested the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, in the absence of Pres Muhammadu Buhari, to extend the tenure of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria. This came on the heels of a confirmation by the Presidency on Wednesday that it had forwarded Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation as the substantive Chief Justice Nigeria as provided under Section 231(1) of the Constitution. NJC took the decision to ask for the renewal of Onnoghen’s acting status at its emergency meeting in Abuja, on Wednesday.
 
However, NJC’s recommendation was to avert a vacuity in the nation’s top-most judiciary position pending when the Senate would confirm Onnoghen as the substantive CJN. It was learnt that Onnoghen, whose first three month tenure as acting CJN expires on 10th of February, 2017. – on Friday, was absent from the NJC’s emergency meeting where the resolution on the renewal of his acting tenure was taken. Onnoghen, as the acting CJN, is also the acting chairman of the NJC, but we learnt that he was exempted from the Wednesday’s meeting in line with the tradition of the council barring a member from participating in the proceedings where issue concerning such member is to be discussed. 

One of the member of the judicial Council confirmed that the second most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, who is statutorily the Vice Chairman of the National Judicial Council, Justice Tanko Muhammad, presided over the  meeting. Explaining the rational behind the emergency meeting, a top source said, “The National Judicial Councel had since last week scheduled today’s meeting to avoid a possible constitutional crisis. No one was sure of what the Presidency was doing. And it was certain that even if the Presidency sent Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation as far back as last week, there was no way the Senate would be able to confirm him before his acting tenure status expires on 10th of February, 2017.
Therefore, the only choice left to save the situation was to fall back on Section 231(5) of the Constitution, which allows him to be re-appointed by the President in acting capacity upon a recommendation by the National Judicial Council. Thus, Section 231(5) cited by the source reads, “Except on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, an appointment pursuant to the provisions of subsection (4) of this section, shall cease to have effect after the expiration of three months from the date of such appointment and the President shall not re-appoint a person whose appointment has lapsed.”

The source said that this was not the first time a similar development of extending the acting status of a head of court would be applied. “Some years back, when the then President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, was removed, on the recommendation of the NJC, the acting status of the then President of the court was renewed six times, he said. Shortly after the emergency meeting on Wednesday, the council communicated its formal recommendation for the renewal of Walter Onnoghen’s acting status to the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. With this, Walter Onnoghen will be able to act as CJN pending when the Senate will reconvene to consider his confirmation. The National Judicial Council had, since October 2016, sent Onnoghen’s name to Buhari for appointment as the substantive CJN. Please like, share and follow!

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