NJC advises Buhari to okay Tanko Muhammad for CJN
With the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC), the coast seems clear for Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad to mount the saddle as CJN. President Muhammadu Buhari is likely to accept the NJC’s recommendation that Justice Muhammad should be CJN, The Nation learnt yesterday.
But Buhari is said to be weighing whether or not to accept the NJC’s recommendations on the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria ( CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen. Buhari, who had a meeting with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on the issue before flying out to Jordan yesterday, is also said to be seeking legal opinions on the NJC’s decisions.
The NJC absolved Justice Muhammad of any blame in deferring to the President to be sworn in as the Acting CJN. He accepted the appointment, having been presented with an ex parte order of the CCT, which led to Justice Onnoghen’s suspension.
The Nation learnt that after receiving the NJC’s recommendations, the President elected to seek legal advice on them. A top government official, who pleaded not to be named because he was not permitted to talk on the matter, said the President was considering:
- whether or not NJC’s conclusions on findings on Onnoghen did not amount to indictment;
- if he should accept NJC’s soft-landing decision to retire Justice Onnoghen with full benefits;
- Onnoghen’s retirement without benefits; and
- whether the law should run its full course, including the conclusion of Onnoghen’s trial by the Code of Conduct Tribunal and a fresh trial by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Buhari is also believed to be thinking of asking NJC to recommend deterrence for Onnoghen or seeking further consultations with the council. The President is also said to be planning to seek advice on whether the input of the Senate necessary in retiring Onnoghen?
The source said: “Since he received the NJC’s recommendations, the President has been thinking of how to manage the situation without rubbishing the anti-corruption agenda of his administration. He has the right to accept or reject the council’s recommendations on Onnoghen. “The President is already seeking legal opinion on legal issues surrounding the NJC’s decisions. He does not want to set a bad precedent in tackling this Onnoghengate”.
The source confirmed that the President met with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. He believed Onnoghen’s case and other matters were discussed. Responding to a question, the source said: “What NJC decided was a kind of soft-landing for Onnoghen with moral and legal implications. “Apart from stepping down, there are concerns about what Onnoghen is really offering as deterrent. Some are saying why can’t the law run its full course? “Others are pressurising the government to take advantage of the window created by the NJC to rebuild the ties between the Executive and the Judiciary as a result of Onnoghen’s travails.”
It was unclear whether or not the President would need the consent of the Senate to retire Onnoghen. “This is part of the legal opinion being sought by the President,” a presidency source said, pleading not to be named.
Section 231 of the 1999 Constitution says: “(1)The appointment of a person to the office of Chef Justice of Nigeria shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.
“(2) The appointment of a person to the office of a Justice of the Supreme Court shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.
“(3) A person shall not be qualified to hold the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria or of a Justice of the Supreme Court, unless he is qualified to practise as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period of not less than fifteen years.
“(4) 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 point the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court to perform those functions.
“(5) Except on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, appointment, pursuant to the provisions of subsection (4) of 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.”
Part 1 of the Third Schedule to 1999 Constitution says: “The National Judicial Council shall have power to:
- (b) recommend to the President the removal from office of the judicial officers specified in sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph, and to exercise disciplinary control over such office’s;
- (c) recommend to the Governors from among the list of persons submitted to it by the State Judicial Service Commissions persons for appointments to the offices of the Chief Judges of the States and Judges of the High courts of the states, the Grand Kadis and Kadis of the sharia Courts of Appeal of the States and Presidents and Judges of the Customary Courts of Appeal of the States;
- (d) recommend to the governors the removal from office of the judicial officers specified in sub-paragraph (c) of this paragraph, and to exercise disciplinary control over such officers;
- (e) collect, control and disburse all moneys, capital and recurrent, for the judiciary;
- (f) advise the President and governors or any matter pertaining to the judiciary as may be referred to the Council by the President or the covernors;
- (g) appoint, dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over member and staff of the Council;
- (h) control and disburse all monies, capital and recurrent. for the services of the Council; and
- (i) deal with all other matters relating to broad issues of policy and administration.
Meanwhile, the NJC has recommended the confirmation of Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad as the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Another source said: “The council actually did not find him culpable of infractions. He actually did not even want to be inaugurated as the Acting CJN until there was evidence of an ex-parte order from the CCT on Justice Onnoghen’s suspension. “As the next in-command, the NJC said he should take over from the CJN.”
When contacted, a source in NJC said: “In line with Section 26 of the Judicial Discipline Regulations of 2017, the council has reached out to all those affected by its decisions. Section 26 says: “The decision taken in regulation 25 of these Regulations shall be notified to the following persons: (a)The subject of the decision; (b)The Complainant and (c) The relevant Head of Court “Upon a request made to the Council, the decision may be notified to any other person. The grant or refusal of such request is in the absolute discretion of the Council.”