Nigeria’s Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has transmitted the name of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen to the Nigerian Senate for confirmation as the substantive CJN.
Osinbajo sent the letter to the Senate on Tuesday, February 7, 2017, barely two days to the expiration of Justice Onnoghen’s tenure as the acting CNJ.
Confirming this Tuesday, a source close to the Office of the Senate President, said Senate President Bukola Saraki received the letter yesterday, requesting the upper chamber to screen and confirm Justice Onnoghen, a Cross River State indigene, as the substantive CJN.
Also, a ranking senator speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he was aware that the acting president had transmitted Justice Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation.
However, he cautioned that just because the presidency had transmitted Justice Onnoghen’s name, it should not expect the Senate to rubber stamp his nomination without a thorough investigative and screening process.
He also pointed that the Senate was currently on recess, so it would be left to Saraki to decide whether to reconvene the Senate to kick-start the screening process before Justice Onnoghen’s tenure as acting CJN lapses on Friday.
“The Senate President is in receipt of the letter from the acting president, but it will be left to Senator Saraki to reconvene plenary to start the screening process.
“But even if he does so, the presidency should not expect us to rubber stamp Justice Onnoghen’s nomination, as we would have to carry out our own background checks, investigation and screening before deciding whether to confirm him or not,” the senator said.
Also, a reliable source from presidency stated that given the lack of sufficient time to conclude Justice Onnoghen’s screening in two days before the expiration of his tenure as the acting CJN, Osinbajo, based on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC), could renew it as an interim measure while the Senate goes about the screening and confirmation exercise.
In this regard, the NJC, might hold an emergency meeting today to recommend the renewal of Justice Onnoghen’s tenure as the acting CJN.
Curiously, Justice Onnoghen, who doubles as the chairman of the NJC, will preside over the meeting.
A source with the NJC said that the council would meet to recommend Justice Onnoghen to the acting president for reappointment in an acting capacity, as this would not require Senate confirmation.
“While serving in an acting capacity for the second time, the Senate will go about its business screening him at its own pace,” the source who was in the know of the likely outcome of the meeting.
Justice Onnoghen’s reappointment as CJN in an acting capacity will be in line with Section 231(4) and (5) of the constitution.
The section states: “If the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the President shall appoint the most Senior Justice of the Supreme Court to perform those functions.
“Except on the recommendation of the NJC, the appointment pursuant to the provisions of sub-section (4) of this section shall cease to have effect after the expiration of three months from the date of such appointment and the President shall not reappoint a person whose appointment has lapsed.”
In recent weeks, pressure has been mount on the presidency to appoint Justice Onnoghen the substantive CJN after northerners had held the post for 30 years.
The transmission of Justice Onnoghen’s name to the Senate follows the clean bill he was given by the Department of State Service (DSS) that has been involved in the probe of some judges of the Supreme Court and other lower courts.