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Acting CJN Calls Bluff On Attempt to Remove Him As Supreme Court Judge

Says Buhari did not need NJC to appoint him as Acting CJN


The acting Chief Justice of Nigeria [CJN], Justice Tanko Muhammad, has called the bluff on the petition to the National Judicial Council [NJC] seeking to remove him as a justice of the Supreme Court.

A group, Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative [CJPI] had written a petition to NJC, the body constitutionally empowered to recommend the appointment of chief justices and heads of courts, against Muhammad.

CJPI asked the council to remove Muhammad as Supreme Court justice for allowing himself to be sworn in by the President Muhammadu Buhari without recourse to the council.

Reacting, however, Justice Muhammad claimed that President Buhari does not need the permission of NJC to appoint him as the acting CJN.

He said the NJC ought to be consulted only when a substantive CJN is being appointed or re-appointed.

Responding to a query given to him by the NJC, he said:

“In my respectful view, the National Judicial Council has no role to play in the appointment of an acting Chief Justice of Nigeria in the first instance, that is to say on first appointment.

“The council comes in where the appointment as the acting CJN is to be renewed or extended. I humbly refer to Section 231(4) of the 1999 Constitution.”

Muhammad noted that the suspended Justice Walter Onnoghen remained the substantive CJN and that he would immediately return to his former position as a justice of the Supreme Court onnce the suspension is overturned.

“It was for the larger interest of the judiciary and the constitutionality that I accepted to be sworn in as acting CJN with the conviction that if the order of January 23, 2019, is eventually set aside, the status quo would be restored.

“But before it is set aside, there should be no vacuum in the office of the CJN and the chairman of the NJC.”

Explaining why he was sworn in as Acting CJN, he said:

“On January 25, 2019, I was summoned to the Aso Villa at the instance of the President.

“Prior to the summons, I was not aware of the fact that the Code of Conduct Tribunal made any order on January 23, 2019.

“Furthermore, beyond what I read in the newspapers and watched on the television just like any other Nigerian, I was not privileged to see any of the processes filed by the parties before the tribunal.

“Hence, I could not really appreciate the merit or demerit of divergent positions.

“On the 25th day of January, the President swore me in as the acing CJN and not as the substantive CJN.

“Justice Walter Onnoghen remains the CJN until he is removed from office in accordance with the provision of the constitution. He is only suspended.”

Muhammad admitted that he was a member of the NJC panel that removed Justice Obisike Orji of the Abia State High Court for accepting to be sworn in as chief judge by the Abia State Government without a recommendation of the NJC.

He, however, said his own case was different because he was only appointed as an acting CJN.

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