By Innocent Anaba and Henry Ojelu
With the rumbling in the Supreme Court over the fate of suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen and action CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, as they await the ruling of the National Judicial Council, NJC, on the petitions against them, focus may shift to the third in rank at the apex court, Justice Olubode Rhodes-Vivour.
It will be recalled that the NJC, had after its emergency meeting on January 29, 2019 called after President Muhammadu Buhari suspended Onnoghen on January 25 and sworn in Muhammad as acting CJN, directed both Onnoghen and Muhammad to respond to petitions against them.
According to the NJC, the petition against Justice Onnoghen was by Zikhrillahi Ibrahim of Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civil Education, the petition against Justice Muhammad was by Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative and another petition against Justice Muhammad, by Olisa Agbakoba, SAN.
Even though the NJC, is yet to reach a decision in the petition against Onnoghen, but by Court of Appeal refusal, yesterday to stay hearing in the case against Onnoghen at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, his (Onnoghen) appearing before the CCT maybe a matter of when and when that happens, he certainly will be expected to step aside, unless NJC holds that the petition against him lack merit.
Observers are of the opinion that what happened to Justice Obisike Oji, of the Abia State High Court, may also happen to Justice Mohammad. Justice Oji was found guilty by the NJC of aiding an unconstitutional process by allowing himself to be sworn-in as the state Chief Judge.
This will also depend on the outcome of the NJC’s report on the petitions against Mohamad. If these scenarios become a reality, then Justice Rhodes-Vivour may be in line to become the next CJN.
ALSO READ: The CJN in the political arena
The man Justice Rhodes-Vivour
He started primary school in 1956. He attended three different primary schools, namely Maryland Primary School, Ikeja, Lagos, St. Msthias Primary School, Akure, and Ibadan District Council School, Oke-Ado, Ibadan, where he obtained his First School Leaving Certificate in 1963.
Between 1963 and 1968, he attended St. Gregory’s College, Lagos.
In 1970, he wrote and passed his Advanced Level Certificate Examinations and proceeded to University of Lagos for his undergraduate studies. He graduated from University of Lagos in 1974 with honours, and thereafter, he was admitted into the Nigerian Law School, and was called to the Bar in 1975.
After being called to Bar, by 1976, he became a Pupil State Counsel, shortly after, in 1978, he became a State Counsel and by 1982, he had become a Senior State Counsel. He was promoted to the position of a Principal State Counsel in 1984 and in 1989, he became Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, Lagos State, this position he held till 1994.
On February 18, 1994, he was appointed to the bench of the state High Court, after many years of experience on the Bench at the High Court, he was elevated to the bench of the Court of Appeal on April 25, 2005.
In 2008 on secondment by the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he was posted to Sierra Leone Judiciary as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone. On his return to Nigeria, after the posting, he was appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court on September 16, 2010.
Justice Rhodes-Vivour has been member Election Petition Tribunal, Rivers and Imo States, 1990; member Election Petition Tribunal, Kwara and Anambra States, 2003 and 2004; member Election Appeal Tribunal, Edo State, 2005 – 2006 and member Election Appeal Tribunal in Oyo, Ogun and Osun States in 2009. Justice Rhodes-Vivour is married to Mrs. Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour, and they are blessed with three children.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria who wished to be anonymous gave a perspective on what could likely happen, said: What will likely play out is this, NJC has never sat on this matter to look at it. So NJC has its own power under the constitution to look at any act of misconduct against any judicial officer. Now, a petition has been received by the NJC, they have done the right thing by asking the two persons involved to respond to those petitions. If they are found guilty, the NJC can now recommend that either or both of them by removed pending their findings. The CJN can be removed in two ways. If there is a petition to the Senate against the CJN and he is found guilty, the Senate can recommend to the President that he be removed. In another scenario, the CJN can recommended to the President that the CJN by removed. In this case the President will now write to the Senate to get the require number of votes for the removal.
“If eventually the NJC finds Onnoghen and Muhammad culpable, then the next senior justice of the Supreme Court will take over. My take again on that is that if the President finds that the next Justice has corruption allegations on him, he may not approve the recommendation of the NJC. To avoid the problem we have now, the president may forward the security report on him to the NJC to persuade them to drop his name.”
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria who also wished not to be mention explained the possible scenario that may play out, said: “The NJC has queried the suspended Justice Walter Onnoghen and the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Muhammad. We all have to wait for them to respond to the query and see what NJC does from that. I cannot say for certainty what will happen. But looking at the scenario, what the NJC can do if they find both culpable is this. For Onnoghen, if he is found complicit of the allegation against him, he will be recommended for suspension. That is the worst they can do. The NJC cannot sack him. The constitution does not give them power to sack the CJN. That is the first part. After that recommendation, the president will have to go before the Senate for his sack.
“For the acting CJN, if the NJC finds him guilty of the allegations against him, he will be sanctioned as a Justice of the Supreme Court and not as a CJN. Again he may also be recommended for suspension. Whether the president will act on that recommendation is another thing.
“The third case scenario is that the two justices in storm, Onnoghen and Muhammad may be asked to go. In that case, the most senior justice may be asked to step in. If that becomes the case, then Federal Judicial Service Commission, F NJC will make a recommendation the NJC which will now forward the name of the proposed justice to the President. Again the ball stops at the table of the President to forward the name of the justice to the Senate.”