By Henry Umoru, Emman Ovuakporie, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—WORRIED over the delay in sending the name of Justice Walter Onnoghen to the Senate for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, the Cross River State National Assembly Caucus has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to as a matter of urgency transmit his name to the upper chambers.
According to the Senators and members of the House of Representatives from Cross River State, the continuous delay of President Buhari to forward the name to the Senate for screening and subsequent confirmation without any lawful and constitutional cause has brought the issue of the independence of the judiciary and security of tenure of judges to doubt and public discourse.
Addressing newsmen, yesterday on behalf of the 11 members of the caucus, Senator John Enoh (PDP, Cross River Central) explained that the appointment of Onnoghen as the CJN, has become imperative against the backdrop that succession to the position has been based on merit and seniority, adding that the established order and convention has imbued the judiciary with a measure of stability and positioned it to play the critical role of dispensing justice immune to undue influence of powerful vested interests.
Senator Enoh was flanked at the briefing by Senators Rose Oko and Gershom Bassey; Essien Ayi; Bassey Ewah; Dan Asuquo; Etta Mbora; Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe; Lego ldagbo; Chris Agibe and Mike Etaba.
Meanwhile, Senators and members, House of Representatives from other parts of the country have thrown their weight behind their colleagues from Cross River State, calling on President Buhari to do the needful by forwarding the name of Onnoghen to the Senate for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Senator Enoh said, “We have decided to speak with one voice regarding the non transmittal of the name of Justice Onnoghen as the CJN, whose pendency has cast a pall of uncertainty on the judiciary, leaving in its wake, a huge shadow and question on the capacity of this hallowed temple of justice to deliver justice in the overall interest of our nation and its citizens.
“In approaching this issue, we are minded by the critical role allotted to us as public office holders and representatives of our people to speak in defence of truth, equity and justice.
“You may recall that the National Judicial Council in exercise of its powers under Section 231 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), on October 13, 2016 recommended Justice Onnoghen as CJN to President Buhari. The tenure of the former CJN, Justice Mahmud Muhammed had elapsed and the president appointed and swore in Justice Onnoghen as acting CJN on November 10, 2016.
“Exactly two months, and 15 days, the presidency has delayed and withheld to forward his name to the senate for confirmation as CJN as required by Section 231 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
“We are worried by this development for obvious reasons. As a hallowed institution, the judiciary is the bastion of our democracy and should be insulated from undue influence, politics and manipulation of political predators. It operates on an established tradition of a settled succession based on merit, and seniority.
”This established order and convention has imbued it with a measure of stability and positioned it to play the critical role of dispensing justice immune to undue influence of powerful vested interests. Before now, the convention has been for the president to forward the name of a candidate so recommended to him by the NJC in exercise of its powers and responsibility.
Pursuant to its mandate, what is required from the presidency in this case is a decisive action of simply transmitting the name of Justice Onnoghen to the senate for confirmation which unfortunately has not happened. This unfortunate development has enveloped the Supreme Court and Judiciary with an intriguing cobweb of uncertainty and given conspiracy theorists a field day to decode why this obvious travesty has endured up till now.
“There is a growing sentiment in certain quarters that Justice Onnoghen’s earned elevation to the rank of CJN is held in abeyance precisely because he is either not from a particular ethnic origin preferred by powerful forces or his profound and at times radical judicial pronouncements make him too principled to occupy this exalted office.
”The president’s inaction in this instance has acted as a cannon fodder for those alluding to a vast conspiracy to deny Justice Onnoghen his earned position.”
Speaking to Vanguard, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP, Delta North), who urged President Buhari not to play politics with the appointment of Onnoghen as CJN said: “I support my colleagues from Cross River State, politics should not be played with the appointment of Onnoghen as the CJN. Apart from Justice Elias, who was brought from the school to be the CJN, it has been on merit, on seniority.
”We should not play politics with the issue, there is a limit to when politics is played. He is the most senior person, his capacity, capability, qualification not in doubt. Why the delay? As someone from the South South, a Nigerian who believe that the right thing should be done, I must say it the way it is without fear of whose ox is gored. Judiciary should be allowed to be independent, his name should be sent now to the Senate. I support my Cross River brothers.”
Also speaking to Vanguard, Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, said, “But that is the right thing to do except if the government of the day want to change how things are being done. If they do, it will be strange indeed.”
Senator Clifford Ordia (PDP, Edo Central), said, “This is the ideal thing for the president to do. I want to join all Nigerians to call on the president to submit his name to the Senate for immediate confirmation in the interest of peace, equity and fairness.”