By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has okayed a fresh suit seeking to bar President Muhammadu Buhari from appointing the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, to take over the leadership of the judiciary in a substantive capacity.
The suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/420/2019, is praying the court to declare that Justice Muhammad who is currently the most senior jurist at the Supreme Court, is unfit to replace the sacked CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
Specifically, the plaintiff, Chief Malcom Omirhobo, who is a human rights lawyer, is praying the court to declare that the Acting CJN, Justice Muhammad, having made himself available as a tool that was used in the violation of the Constitution, especially with regards to the “illegal” removal of the former CJN, is therefore not a proper and fit person to be recommended for appointment to head the judiciary.
It is the contention of the plaintiff that the Acting CJN conducted himself in a manner that reduced the confidence of the public in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary.
Cited as 1st to 7th Defendants in the suit were the National Judicial Council, NJC, the Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC, the Acting CJN, the Federal Government of Nigeria, President Buhari, the Attorney General of the Federation, and the National Assembly.
The plaintiff, among other things, urged the court to declare that the suspension and/or removal of a CJN from office, is a shared responsibility of the 1st Defendant (NJC), the 5th defendant (Buhari) and 7th Defendant (National Assembly).
He argued that President Buhari lacked the constitutional powers to unilaterally suspend and/or the removal a sitting CJN from office, as was done in the case of Onnoghen.
Besides, he prayed the court to declare that by combined interpretation sections 1(1 )(2), 231(4), 292(1)(a)(i)(b), 153(1)(i), 158(1) and paragraph 21 (a)(b) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, “it is unlawful and undemocratic for the 4th and 5th Defendants (Federal Government and President Buhari), to declare the office of the CJN vacant on January 25, 2019 and consequently appoint and swear in the 3rd Defendant as the acting CJN”.
He, therefore, applied for a court order to restrain the National Assembly from confirming any appointment of Justice Muhammad as the substantive CJN.
Likewise, for, “An order, compelling the 2nd Defendant (FJSC), to select and the 1st Defendant (NJC), to recommend the most qualified Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria that is fit and proper, to the 5th Defendant, for appointment to office of the CJN, and for the confirmation of the 7th Defendant with a two-thirds majority vote”.
Aside praying the court to bar President Buhari from appointing Justice Muhammad as the substantive CJN, the Plaintiff, in a 65-paragraph affidavit he filed in support of the suit, stressed that unless restrained by the court, the Executive Arm of Government would continue to violate the extant provisions of the Constitution and sanctity of the judiciary.
Meantime, the suit which has already been assigned to Justice Iyang Ekwo for hearing is coming barely 72 hours after the NJC disclosed that it had approved the extension of Justice Muhammad’s tenure as the Acting CJN.
The Council had in a statement over the weekend, said it had at the end of the meeting is held on April 18, considered and approved President Buhari’s request for the extension of the appointment the Acting CJN for another three months.