By Emma Amaize, Henry Umoru, Emman Ovuakporie, Joseph Erunke & Johnbosco Agbakwuru

EIGHT days to expiration  of Justice Walter Onnoghen’s tenure as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, President Muhammadu Buhari has been urged to send his name to the Senate for confirmation to avert crisis in the polity especially in the Niger-Delta.
This was the opinion of some leaders and stakeholders including Elder Statesman, Chief Edwin Clark; Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, and two members of the House of Representatives, Hon. Timothy Golu (Plateau, Paskshin/Kanke/Kanam) and Michael Adeniyi Omogbehin (Ondo, Okitipupa/Irele).
According to the Constitution, Justice Onnoghen is expected to vacate office if his appointment is not confirmed by the Senate after three months. The National Judicial Commission, NJC, in exercise of its powers under Section 231 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), on October 13, 2016, recommended Justice Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria to President Buhari but the President is yet to forward his name to the Senate for confirmation.

Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Nkanu Onnoghen

Meanwhile, the Presidency has cautioned leaders against blackmailing the president on the issue or reading religious, ethnic and regional meanings into it.

Let’s avert fresh crisis in Niger-Delta – Clark
Clark, who is the convener of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, pleaded with President Buhari to transmit Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation to ward off fresh crisis in the Niger-Delta. The acting CJN is from Cross River State, one of the six states of the South-South geo-political zone.
Vanguard gathered that an emergency meeting of PANDEF would be convened, weekend, to enable the region deliberate and take a position on the matter. Speaking to Vanguard, Chief Clark said leaders of the region had been busy for some time now trying to bring peace to the region and stop pipeline vandalism by militants, but just when they were about to celebrate the new found peace, another problem over the delay in sending the name of Justice Onnoghen for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria is brewing.
He urged President Buhari “not to listen or allow himself to be misled by some of his advisers but take the best decision in the overall interest of Nigeria and the law. We have kept quiet for some time thinking that Mr. President will not waste time in sending his name to the Senate for confirmation. The duty of the President, as contained in the 1999 Constitution, has always been conventional and traditional. It is not the duty of Mr. President to question the suitability of the person recommended by the National Judicial Council, NJC. Once the recommendation is done, it is automatic and his duty is just to transmit the name to the Senate, the verification, looking into his character and everything is that of the Senate and not the President.
“But for more than three months now, going to about four months since the name was submitted to Mr. President, we, in the South-South, feel that the same thing that was done in the case of previous Chief Justices of Nigeria should be done. For instance, Justice Irikefe was CJN from 1985 to 1987, it was the same procedure that was used in appointing Justice Bello as CJN (1987 – 1995). And after him, there had been no trouble, it has been a quiet transition all along from one CJN to the other, in fact, the president has never questioned the judgement of the NJC. Once the NJC has taken a decision and submits the name to the president, it is automatic…
“Nobody knew what was happening or even took notice of it, so I am appealing to Mr. President on behalf of the people of the South-South to please send the name of Onnoghen for confirmation before the expiration of his acting tenure, as doing otherwise, will cause problem in the area. We are not trouble makers; we are Nigerians and not second-class citizens of the country.
“Any moment we are being treated otherwise, our children will begin to ask questions, are they first-class citizens in Nigeria, are they equal to other Nigerians, we will not accept it. So, we are appealing to Mr. President to use his good office if he wants peace in the area and cooperation of the people of the South-South not to cause another problem in the area.”

Buhari should act without further delay – Omo-Agege.  In like manner, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (LP, Delta Central) urged President Buhari to transmit Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation as CJN without further delay.
In a text message to Vanguard yesterday, Senator Omo- Agege said: “Justice Nkanu Onnoghen is one of Nigeria’s sharpest legal minds. He is a man of integrity, who has served the country well. His sterling record of excellence uniquely qualifies him to serve as Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“His nomination would be a sterling choice that would receive overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate. That said, I do urge President Buhari to send his name to the Senate for confirmation right away.”
The Senator’s call is coming barely 24 four hours after the Cross River State National Assembly Caucus urged President Buhari to treat the matter with urgency.

Reps Omoghehin, Golu concur
Also, Rep Micheal Adeniyi Omogbehin said the delay in transmitting Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation was setting bad precedence in the country.
His words: “It is very unfortunate that we found ourselves in such unusual circumstances and situation. The usual sequence has been that the most senior judge in the Supreme Court automatically takes over. Why is this happening at this critical time? It smirks a very dangerous precedence because in the past 30 years, this is the first time the headship of the judiciary is shifting from the northern to the southern part of the country. I want to assume that the delay is a coincidence and I don’t want to assume that the president albeit the presidency has done this deliberately.
“Despite the fact that National Assembly has suspended plenary, there is still room to address this urgent situation. I reliably gathered that the acting Chief Justice has up to three to four years to be on the seat, which simply means he is still young enough and there has not been any disciplinary charges against him.
“So, as a patriotic Nigerian, I call on Mr. President to do the needful so as not to create the impression or ratify the impression that has been created already that Onnoghen is being denied that position because he is from the southern side of Nigeria.’’
To Rep. Timothy Golu: “In this matter, justice should be done. The person that is qualified should be given this job because the President said he is out to promote justice, unity and the rest of them. One of the ways in which he should demonstrate that is by observing due process. This man’s name was submitted some months ago and in line with the constitution, every requirements have been met.
“So, in order not to create any crisis, crisis of confidence, crisis of leadership, or in order not to create any ethnic problem because people from the South will feel that the President, who is from the North, does not want any southerner to take over the office of the CJN. That will not be good for the unity of this country. I know that the President in his wisdom will confirm Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria because he is a man of justice and we believe he will do justice to this… So I have utmost confidence that President Buhari will appoint Onnoghen as the substantive CJN of this country.”
On whether the National Assembly will invoke the doctrine of necessity if the President fails to forward his name for confirmation, he said, “I don’t know what the National Assembly will do but let us get to the bridge first.’’

Presidency warns against blackmail. However, the Presidency, yesterday, warned some Nigerians against capitalizing on the delayed transmission of Onnoghen’s name to the Senate to blackmail President Buhari.
It also flayed what it called attachment of ethnic, religious and sectional meanings to the development, saying Buhari’s appointments so far have shown him as a detribalised president.
Reacting to concerns shown by many Nigerians, especially the Cross River State National Assembly Caucus over the president’s delay in sending Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for screening and confirmation as substantive CJN, Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Chief Okoi Okono Obla, asked those having sleepless nights on the issue to be patient, saying “the system will take care of itself when the Acting CJN’s tenure expires.”
Obla hinted that there was no section of the Nigerian Constitution that prevented the president from re-appointing Onnoghen in acting capacity, a development which alluded to fears being raised in some quarters that Onnoghen may not be confirmed as substantive CJN.
Obla insisted that the president has not done anything wrong by his delayed action, saying the current situation was common in most states of the federation.
“We have an acting CJN of Nigeria. Well, if his tenure ends, the system will take care of itself. I don’t think the president has done anything wrong.
“ In Nigeria, in the judicial branch of government, we have seen this happen. In my own state, Cross River State, the Chief Judge who is the current one was appointed in acting capacity and when his tenure expired, he was again appointed in acting capacity. So, trying to blackmail the president over this is bad.
“People are trying to read ethnic, religious and regional meanings to this because in Nigeria, everything is being looked at from sectional perspective. I think they are not being fair to the president, “he said .  Reacting to concerns raised by the Cross River State National Assembly Caucus over the development, Obla said: “For goodness sake, has the president not appointed people from that very state where the Acting CJN comes from? Recently, the Auditor General of the Federation was appointed from that state based on merit, because he came first in the interview conducted and the president appointed him.

The Chief of Naval Staff was the fifth in the Naval hierarchy but the president appointed him Chief of Naval Staff. So what are they saying?
“So, the president would respect the law, would respect the Constitution as far as the appointment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria is concerned. But people should stop reading unnecessary meanings, “he charged.
Asked if the Acting CJN can still be appointed in acting capacity, Obla said: “What I’m saying here is that the process will take care of itself. There wouldn’t be any vacuum, the process would take care of itself.”
Obla defended Buhari’s action in rejecting the Senate recommendation that the Secretary to Government of the Federation, David Babachir Lawal be sacked and prosecuted over alleged corruption and advised the lawmakers to forward the allegations against the SGF to the anti-graft agencies.
“First and foremost, the Senate is not a court of law. The Senate is not police, the Senate is not EFCC, the Senate is not ICPC. The Senate, under Section 88 of the Constitution can carry out what we call oversight functions. And in the course of its oversight functions, the Senate do investigate the executive branch of government or the department of the executive branch of government in order to expose corruption, inefficiency and so on and so forth.
“The report that was issued by the Senate was an interim report saying that the president should sack the Secretary to Government of the Federation. It is an interim report. And the president’s letter to the Senate was that look, your report was an interim report, I thought that you were going to give me a full report, your work is inconclusive but from what I have seen, the man was not given a fair hearing….
“Alternatively, nothing stops the Senate from sending the report to the EFCC or the ICPC in addition to what the president is doing. Remember that the president asked the Attorney-General to investigate and we have not been told that the Attorney General has submitted the report to the president. ‘’


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