President Muhammadu Buhari has just sworn in a new Chief Justice of Nigeria after suspending current CJN, Walter Onnoghen, a move that may plunge the country into a constitutional crisis.
The new CJN is Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed from Bauchi State.
He was sworn in by Mr Buhari Friday afternoon inside the council chamber of State House Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The swearing was done after the president signed the new Executive Order 007.
CHECKPOINTCHARLEY says that Mr. Buhari does not have the constitutional power to suspend the CJN and unilaterally appoint an acting Chief Justice, without such a person being recommended by the National Judicial Council , in accordance with Section 231 of the Nigerian Constitution.
Section 292 of the Nigerian constitution deals with the removal of some public officials including the CJN. The section does not distinguish temporary removal (suspension) from a permanent removal.
“A judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstances –
(a) in the case of –
“Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and President, Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.”
(ii) Chief Judge of a State, Grand Kadi of a Sharia Court of Appeal or President of a Customary Court of Appeal of a State, by the Governor acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the House of Assembly of the State,
Praying that he be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct;
(b) in any case, other than those to which paragraph (a) of this subsection applies, by the President or, as the case may be, the Governor acting on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council that the judicial officer be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct.
Put differently, a sitting CJN can only be removed from office by the president after at least two-thirds majority members of the Senate support such a move. No such matter has been debated in the Senate.
Mr. Onnoghen’s purported removal has sparked outrage and condemnation from opposition parties who accused the president of staging “a judicial coup”.
Mr. Buhari, a former dictator is seeking re-election at polls on February 16 at the age of 76.
The opposition parties have alleged a plot to rig the polls and see the CJN’s travails as an integral part of that plot.
Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen, who heads the Supreme Court, would rule on any legal challenge to the election result.
In a move to get rid of him, the Buhari government had on January 12 dragged him before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on a six count charge relating to the non-disclosure of foreign currency bank accounts, in breach of rules for public officials.
But Mr. Onnogh had on Thursday secured an injunction ordering the CCT hearing his case to halt proceedings pending the final determination by the Court of Appeal on his application to have the charges dropped.
Nonetheless, Mr. Buhari ordered his suspension, claiming he was forced to act because the CJN had not voluntarily resigned himself as demanded by his govt.
The presidential candidate, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar on Friday condemned Onnoghen’s purported sack, calling the suspension a “brazen dictatorial act”.
He said, “the latest action in the ongoing rape of our nation’s hard-earned democracy by those who dined with anti-democratic forces.”
It was a reference to Mr. Buhari’s military past.
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki has also rejected the CJN’s removal, saying saying the president has exercised powers he does not have – “the consequences of which nobody can predict.”
The Nigerian Bar Association also condemned the unlawful sack of the CJN in a statement, and called on the National Assembly to save Nigeria from what it described as a “coup against the judiciary.”