The National Judicial Council (NJC), today held an Emergency Meeting to formally note the acceptance by President Muhammadu Buhari of the voluntary retirement of Justice Walter Onnoghen, as Chief Justice of Nigeria.
In a statement by the NJCs Director of Information, Soji Oye, the Presidents acceptance of the retirement is in line with the Councils recommendation to him on April 3, 2019.
At the end of the emergency meeting, the NJC thanked the President for accepting Onnoghens resignation, describing it as a move which was in the best interest of the country.
The Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, on Sunday announced that President Buhari had accepted the former CJN’s retirement from service.
According to him, the retirement took effect from May 28, 2019.
He said the President thanked Justice Onnoghen for his service to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and wished him the best of retirement life.
President Buhari also wrote to the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Tanko Muhammad, requesting that he commences the process of appointing five additional Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
He, however, said there was a need to carry along key stakeholders such as the NJC and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in the reform process for better result.
Ogunye said, “Recommendations can be made time and again but when there are no factual situations that warrant stakeholders focussing on the subject so closely; we won’t then have these issues.
“Talking about how to reform, I want to recommend that the Federal Government holds this event in collaboration with stakeholders – NJC, NBA, and all that, who have to set up a grand commission to look at how to reform our judiciary holistically and comprehensively.”
“Not just about corruption, and I am saying this with all sense of responsibility; the NJC has no capacity to self-reform,” he added. “Part of the problem that we have to deal with on this occasion is that we had a CJN who was indicted presiding over an NJC that he single-handedly nominated or appointed 14 members of; a majority of them.”
“So, how can that NJC that is called upon to regulate itself in regulating the regulators perform optimally?” the lawyer questioned.
He was hopeful that if the issues raised were thoroughly considered in addition with some legislative interventions such as amendment of the Constitution, the judiciary would become better.
The lawyer also suggested that the nation’s judicial system be re-federalised, as part of the fundamental reform process.
According to him, the judiciary is unitary regardless of the various forms of the court such as the state and federal High Courts.
Ogunye decried the situation where a judge has over 700 cases to adjudicate, stressing that Lagos State does, for example, needed a minimum of 200 judges.
The National Judicial Council (NJC), has approved President Muhammadu Buhari’s request to extend the tenure of the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad.
The council in a statement by its Director Information, Soji Oye, stated that the approval followed several deliberations during a meeting which was held last week Thursday.
Mr Oye noted that contrary to reports that the NJC was going to meet next week on the extension of Justice Muhammad’s tenure, the council, however, meet on April 18, 2019, which resolved to the approval of his extension.
“The attention of the National Judicial Council has been drawn to an online newspaper and daily newspaper Report stating that the Council would meet next week to deliberate on the extension of the Acting Appointment of Honourable Dr Justice I. T. Muhammad CFR, as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“Contrary to the above, the Council actually met on Thursday 18th April 2019 and at the 88thMeeting considered and approved the request of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, for the extension of the Appointment of Hon. Dr Justice I. T. Muhammad, CFR, as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria for another three (3) months and Council has since forwarded its approval to the President”.
The National Judicial Council has constituted a five-man investigative committee to further investigate petitions against the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, and the Acting CJN, Justice Ibrahim Muhammad.
The NJC has also forwarded a fresh petition written against the Acting CJN by the Action People’s Party (APP) for his response within seven working days.
In a statement by its Director of Information, Soji Oye, the NJC said the decisions followed a continuation of its emergency meeting, during which the council accepted the result of the preliminary assessment of the petitions against Justices Onnoghen and Muhammad.
The investigative committee initially set up to assess the first petitions had submitted that the allegations were worthy of further investigation and should not be terminated under Rule 17 of the Judicial Discipline Regulations of the Council.
According to the statement by the NJC, “The council constituted a five-member Investigation Committee pursuant to Rule 20 (1) of the Judicial Discipline Regulations under the Chairmanship of Hon. Mr Justice S. A. Akintan, CON, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria”.
It added that the Council directed a five-man Committee to work expeditiously, determine all the petitions and responses and report to Council for a final decision.
In total, the NJC considered four petitions including one against the Chairman of the Code Of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar, which was referred to the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) which is the appropriate constitutional body empowered to deal with it.
The NJC is to reconvene on February 11, 2019.
Read the other petitions in the statement below.
29th January, 2019
NJC ends Emergency Meeting
Gives Hon. Mr. Justice W.S.N. Onnoghen, GCON and Hon. Mr. Justice I.T. Muhammad, CFR seven (7) working days to respond to petitions.
Refers petition against CCT Chairman, Danladi Yakubu Umar to the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC). To reconvene on 11th February 2019.
The National Judicial Council held an Emergency Meeting today and considered four (4) petitions filed at its Secretariat. The petitions are:
Petition against Hon. Mr. Justice W.S.N. Onnoghen, GCON by Zikhrillahi Ibrahim of Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civil Education;
Petition against Hon. Mr. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR by Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative;
Petition against Hon. Mr. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR by Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, OON; and
Petition against Hon. Danladi Yakubu Umar, Chairman, Code of Conduct Tribunal by Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative.
Council referred the petition against Hon. Danladi Yakubu Umar to the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) which is the appropriate constitutional body empowered to deal with it.
In line with its procedure, Council also forwarded the petitions against Hon. Justices W.S.N. Onnoghen, GCON and I. T. Muhammad, CFR to them for their responses.
In view of the gravity of the matters involved, Council abridged the usual response period from fourteen (14) to seven (7) working days for the Hon. Justices to respond.
Hon. Mr. Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen, GCON and Hon. Mr. Justice I.T. Muhammad, CFR recused themselves from the meeting. Consequently, Council elected Hon. Mr. Justice Umaru Abdullahi, CON, former President of the Court of Appeal as Interim Chairman to preside over the meeting.
Lawyer and human rights activist, Mike Ozekhome, has faulted the Federal Government’s decision to suspend the Chief Justice of the Federation, Walter Onnoghen.
According to him the only body that has the powers to suspend a top judge is the National Judicial Council.
He said this on Monday when he made an appearance on Channels Television’s Politics Today.
“The Only body that has the power to suspend is the NJC and since the Chief Justice is involved, all they need to do is to convene and the Chief Justice will not seat to chair it.
“The CJN occupies a special place like the Chief Judges that I’ve referred to and the grand cadre it’s not just like any judicial officer. For you to remove him or even any other judicial officer, the NJC must meet,” Ozekhome said.
His comments come days after President Muhammadu Buhari suspended the CJN, who is being tried over allegations of failing to declare his assets.
According to the president, the development was based on the request of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, pending the completion of the trial.
Following the suspension, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed was appointed as the acting CJN.
Ozekhome, however, stressed that with or without an exparte order, the President has no right to suspend the CJN.
He said, “No, no, no. He does not have the power. Whether on an exparte order or on a motion on notice or even on a court judgement because the powers of appointment and suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria are matters that are governed by the clear provisions of the Constitution.
“Sections 153, sections 158, Section 291, Section 292 (2) and the third schedule Section 21 part 1 and 2 of the 1999 Constitution.
“They say it is the NJC that nominates a person for appointment to the CJN. Then the CJN by 2/3rd majority vote confirms that appointment.
“The President merely plays a nominal role of now swearing in that person.
“It is the same route you follow when you are dismissing. The NJC recommends, the Senate by 2/3rd majority approves, then the president can remove”.
A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association,Dr Olisa Agbakoba has submitted a petition against Justice Tanko Muhammed, who was appointed last Friday as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari.
In a statement from his chambers on Monday, Mr Agbakoba said he submitted his petition to the National Judicial Council, asking it to determine the propriety of Justice Mohammed accepting to be sworn-in by the President in place of the suspended CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
According to him, by submitting himself to the President to be sworn-in as acting CJN, Justice Mohammed lent himself to a constitutional infraction by the executive arm of government.
Agbakoba recalled that Justice Mohammed was part of an NJC panel that sanctioned Justice Obisike Orji of Abia State for allowing himself to be sworn-in as Abia State Chief Judge by the state’s governor without the recommendation of the NJC.
Agbakoba said, “It is a matter of regret that Justice Tanko Muhammad, who participated in this process, will lend himself to this constitutional infraction.
“We pray the NJC to determine this petition in line with the decision in Justice Obisike Orji by immediately removing Justice Tanko Muhammad as Justice of the Supreme Court on grounds of gross misconduct which has generated perhaps the most controversial crisis in Nigeria’s judicial history.”
Insisting that the President violated the law in suspending Justice Onnoghen, Agbakoba cited Section 153 of the constitution, saying the law was clear on how a CJN could be removed.
He said, “The Constitution is clear about the procedure for suspending or removing the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“The Chief Justice of Nigeria can only be removed on the recommendation of the NJC. See Section 153 (1), Paragraph 21 (a) of the 3rd Schedule and Section 292 (1) (a) (i) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999and the Supreme Court decision in Elelu-Habeeb v AGF (2012) 40 WRN 1.
“Hon. Justice Tanko Muhammad is fully aware of the state of law, yet presented himself to be sworn in by the President.”
Meanwhile, anti-corruption group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, has given the NJC till Thursday to take over Onnoghen’s case and look into the false asset declaration allegations levelled against him.
SERAP, in a statement by its Senior Legal Adviser, Bamisope Adeyanju, asked Justice Muhammad to recuse himself from the case.
It said if the allegations against Justice Onnoghen are established after the investigation by the NJC, the CJN should be handed over to the relevant anti-graft agency for prosecution.
“The NJC should take the recommended action within five days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, failing which SERAP will take appropriate legal action to compel the NJC to take action on the case,” the statement read.
Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, has asked Justice Walter Onnoghen to quit the bench after his suspension must have been lifted by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The human rights activist made this call on Sunday while featuring as a guest on Channels Television’s Politics Today.
He said, “The government should as a matter of urgency, lift the suspension on the Chief Justice since the Chief Justice as so much to on his own admitted that he did not declare his assets, he should do the needful by calling it quits”.
Falana said after the suspension has been lifted, the Chief Justice should quit the bench because he has already admitted that he failed in his duty to declare his asset as required by the constitution.
The Senior Advocate further argued that the Executive and the Judiciary arms of government have failed Nigerians with regards to the case of Justice Walter Onnoghen.
The National Judicial Council (NJC) has defended its decision to recommend Justice Uwani Abba-Aji to President Muhammadu Buhari for appointment as a justice of the Supreme Court.
The judicial body gave the explanation on Wednesday in a statement by its Director of Information, Soji Oye.
It noted a publication by a civil society group which asked the President not to forward the name of the justice to the Senate for confirmation.
According to the NJC, the group had premised its objection to the appointment of Justice Abba-Aji on a report which allegedly named him as one of the judicial officers under investigation for allegedly receiving bribe.
It said sequel to the request of the Attorney-General of the Federation in 2016, Justice Abba-Aji and seven other judicial officers were directed by the Council to recuse themselves from performing their judicial functions pending their investigation by the security agencies.
The judicial body explained that Justice Abba-Aji and five others were recalled, as only three out of the judicial officers then under investigations were arraigned in court.
Since then, Justice Abba-Aji is said to have been sitting in court and no investigation agency has filed any new allegation against him.
Read the full statement below:
The attention of the National Judicial Council has been drawn to a publication by the Civic Society Network Against Corruption urging President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, not to forward the name of Honourable Mr. Justice Uwani Abba-Aji recommended to him by the Council for appointment as a Justice of the Supreme Court to the Senate for confirmation otherwise it would challenge the action in Court.
The Group premised its objection to the appointment of Hon Mr. Justice Abba-Aji to the Apex Court on the report of an online newspaper of 16th October, 2016, which featured his name as one of the Judicial Officers under investigation for corruption by Security Agencies for accepting bribe from a Senior Lawyer who is currently facing trial at the Law Court.
The Civil Society group concluded by imploring President Buhari, GCFR, to withhold submission of Hon. Mr. Justice Abba- Aji's name to the National Assembly until he is purged of the allegation of corruption.
In as much as the National Judicial Council would not join issues with anyone on this matter, it is necessary to put the records straight. Members of the public would recall that sequel to the request of the Attorney-General of the Federation, in 2016, Hon. Mr Justice Abba-Aji and seven (7) other Judicial Officers were directed by the Council to recuse themselves from performing their judicial functions pending their investigation by Security Agency.
However, Hon. Mr. Justice Abba-Aji and five (5) others were recalled as only three (3) out of the Judicial Officers then under investigations were arraigned in Court.
For the avoidance of doubt, Hon. Mr. Justice Abba- Aji has since been sitting in Court and no Investigation Agency has filed any new allegation against His Lordship, in fact, his international passport had been returned to him and he had been travelling outside the country without any hindrance, signalling that the investigation agencies have nothing new against His Lordship.
The law of the land remains that no one is to be punished except for an offence established by due process of law.
The National Judicial Council hereby re-affirms its commitment to zero tolerance for corruption which is the stand of The Honourable, The Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the Council, Hon. Mr. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, GCON.