Leading lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has spoken on the status of the Acting Chief Justice of the Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, whose acting tenure expires in less than two weeks. In this interview with us on Sunday, Falana also spoke on what may have caused the delay, the risk, precedents and the options open to the government:
Is there a justification for Buhari to withhold sending the acting CJ’s name to the Senate?
The Buhari administration claims the delay is occasioned by the investigation of some justices of the Supreme Court. But it should not take eternity to conduct the probe. The government should ensure that the investigation is concluded as soon as possible.
What is at risk here?
The risk is that the delay may be politicized or even ethnicised. More dangerously, the Senate that will eventually confirm the nominee may be tempted to influence the decisions of the Supreme Court. That is what the delay in confirming the appointment of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as EFCC chairman has caused. The government must avoid a situation whereby the confirming authority is setting down conditions for the confirmation of the nominee for the post of the CJN.
Do you think the government might put Onnoghen’s name forward at the last minute?
I cannot afford to guess. President Buhari is generally very slow in handling affairs of state. The Senate has gone on recess and will not resume until February 21. In the circumstance, the acting CJN may be reappointed after the end of the mandatory period of three months. When the immediate past president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami was suspended for over one year, Justice Bulkachuwa was acting president for over one year before she was eventually confirmed. In 2007, when the Senate deferred the confirmation of the appointment of the former CJN Legbo Kutigi, he was sworn in as acting CJN.