By Henry Umoru
Abuja – Justice Walter Onnoghen who was confirmed yesterday by the Senate as the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, who wore black suit and red tie, was ushered into the Senate Chambers by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly matters, Senate, Senator Ita Enang and accompanied by his House of Representatives counterpart, Sumaila Kawu at 11.35 am.
This happened after the Senate leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan moved that the Senate dissolve to a Committee of the Whole to continue the screening process of the CJN.
Onnoghen came in company of almost all the serving 17 Justices of the Supreme Court including JusticesIbrahim Tanko Mohammed; Kudirat Kekere- Ekun; Bode Rhodes- Vivour, among others who took three rolls at the left hand side of the Chambers.
Also with the new CJN was his own governor, Senator Ben Ayade of Cross River State who was around to support him. Soon after Onnoghen entered, he went was invited to the Rostrum at 11.40 am and he was there till 1pm where he answered questions from the Senators.
When it was time to speak, the new CJN who observed protocol, told the Senators that he was coming to the chambers the third time, having accompanied three Justices who were during their time present for the screening.
He told the Senators that every Wednesday is set aside for special panel of the supreme court to deal with Pre-election matters, but the Justices could not sit because of the screening.
Senators who asked questions and what they asked
The first to ask questions was the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu
And he asked thus, The time frame within which political related matters are dealt with. My lord I am sure you are aware that prior to 2010 election matters take 4 to 5 years to conclude sometimes beyond the lifespan of the tenure of the incumbent but after we have amended the constitution given time frame to deal with that. Some other parts of political debate matters, the court caught up in the web of long periods of trial; matters such as the internal dynamics of the party, pre-election matters they are pending all over the courts and taking so much time to deal with. Is there anyway you think that those political related matters can be dealt with judiciously.?
The second relates to the issue of corruption, there has been this argument whether there should be separate courts for corruption related matters and it appears that the judiciary has been reluctant in supporting that move. As the head of the judiciary, what do you think should be the way forward in determining whether to set up separate courts for corruption matters or to allow the regular courts to continue as they are doing.?
Finally, do you believe that judiciary is the last hope of the common man but with the present searchlight on judiciary by the anti-corruption agencies; people are worried that we may get into a situation where courts are intimidated in such a way that even the common man cannot be sure of justice. What is the guarantee that inspite of everything that the judiciary will remain resolute and determined to ensure that they remain the last hope of the common man.?
On his part, the Senate leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan asked thus
Recently, there were some cases of corruption charges against some of the people that work in the judicial arm of government. You have about 4 years to be the CJN; I want you to tell us how you intend to within this period reform the judiciary, bring back confidence of public because some people would feel our judicial system is under heavy question mark of integrity but we need to do something to regain confidence of the public.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator David Umaru, APC, Niger East asked the following questions.
You will recall the case of Buhari against INEC and others, 2008, AC/51/2008 in which you delivered a dissenting judgement alongside your brothers wherein you nullified the 2007 election on the grounds of substantial non compliance with electoral Act. You equally handed down the profound decision in Amaechi vs INEC reported in 2008 file Nigerian weekly law report pg 10,80. Equally in the case of Saraki against the Federal Republic of Nigeria delivered on 5th Feb. 2016, you delivered the lead judgement there. That scenario put against the recent arrest of some judicial officers for alleged involvement in corrupt practice and following your delay in your nomination by the executive sending the name here for confirmation there is a general feeling that the judiciary under your watch if eventually the nomination passes through the distinguished senate that the judiciary under your watch may not exhibit the exceptional and uncommon courage which you have exhibited in those two cases. As to ensure the independence of the judiciary how can you assure Nigerians that should your confirmation be confirmed the independence of the judiciary under your watch will not be compromised.?
Recently, pursuant to section 231 of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria as amended you have invited the nominations from the Nigerian Bar Association to nominate suitably qualified legal practitioners for appointment as justices of the supreme court similar indication that was extended to the Court of Appeal. Could you explain the reason behind this departure from this tradition of elevating justices of the lower court to the supreme and its likely effect from the moral of judicial officers who aspired to build a career in the judiciary and how this will impact on justice delivery in this great country.?
The presidential enabling business council recently approved 60 days national action plan for ease of doing business in Nigeria. In what ways will the judiciary under your watch key into this policy and support and ensure speedy disposal of commercial disputes that will attract foreign investors.?
The Deputy Senate leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’ Allah asked what the Judiciary will do at the event of reckless policy announcements by the Executive like the US on immigration.
The Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye who cracked jokes that non lawyers can ask better questions asked on modernizing the judiciary like in the UK where you don’t find judges with Pens and that the Supreme Court has become an area of senior that can become a CJN.
On his part, the Minority leader, Senator Godwill Akpabio asked how will he give Nigerians an independent judiciary and how he will reinvigorate the judiciary.?