…swears in 250 election petition tribunal Judges
… S’Court Justices boycott event, as anxiety mounts over Onnoghen’s safety
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, has alluded to a plot to destabilize the Judiciary, saying it was time for Judges to stand and protect its integrity.
Justice Muhammad who performed his first official function by inaugurating Judges that will handle 2019 National Assembly, Governorship & State Assembly Election Petition Tribunals, on Saturday, said the Judiciary Arm of Government was passing through a turbulent period.
While addressing the 250 Election Petition Tribunal Judges at the ceremony that took place inside the Supreme Court, the Acting CJN, said: “As your lordships take the oath of office as Chairmen and Members of the Election Petition Tribunals, let me remind you that this oath is a solemn appeal to Almighty God.
“Therefore, it is to God Almighty that you will be ultimately responsible.
It is from this oath that your duties and responsibilities as Chairmen and Members of the Election Petition Tribunals in your various places of assignment spring forth and has a binding effect on each and everyone of you.
“This is an ethical undertaking to justice as well as to uphold the RuIe Of Law in our courts and tribunals.
“As such, I implore you to discharge this onerous duty diligently and with the fear of God Almighty.
“The judiciary is in the trying time, you must stand, I repeat you must stand to protect and uphold the integrity of this arm of government.
“If any other person is trying to destroy it, we should try to protect it.
“If we don’t protect it ourselves, no one can do it for us. Therefore it is our sacred duty to see that we protect the judiciary.
“I therefore congratulate you on this appointment and I urge you to see this assignment as a call to greater service to your nation.
“I encourage you to uphold and enhance the honour, integrity and standing of the judiciary and I pray that the Almighty Allah wiII bestow upon you strength, good health and wisdom and capabilities in the performance of your duties”.
Meanwhile, other Justices of the Supreme Court, boycotted the event that had few guests in attendance.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in an unprecedented move on Friday evening, suspended the substantive CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, even as he swore in Justice Muhammad to take over the leadership of the Nigerian Judiciary.
President Buhari premised his action on an ex-parte order from the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, in Abuja, where the suspended CJN is facing charges the Federal Government entered against him for allegedly failing to declare his assets as prescribed by the law.
Specifically, the CCT order read: “It is hereby ordered as follows: That the defendant/respondent shall step aside as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman National Judicial Council over allegation of Contravening the provisions of the code of Conducts and Tribunal Act CAP C15 Laws of the Federation 2004 pending the determination of the Motion on notice dated 10th January 2019.
“That the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall take all necessary measure to swear in the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman National Judicial Council in order to prevent a vacuum in the judicial arm of government pending the determination of the motion on notice”.
Meanwhile, anxiety has continued to mount over whereabouts of the suspended CJN, as stern looking armed security operatives from both the Nigerian Police and the Department of State Service, DSS, cordoned off his premises situated within the Three Arm Zone of the Federal Capital Territory.
The security operatives barred journalists and other well wishers from having access to the area.
Every attempt to reach the Senior Special Assistant to the CJN on Media, Mr. Awassam Bassey, proved abortive, as all his mobile telephone lines were switched off.
Action of the security agents has further fuelled insinuation that the embattled CJN who had earlier announced his plan to inaugurate the election petition tribunal judges, could have been placed under house arrest.