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Onoghen and the clouds of uncertainty

By News Express on 28/01/2017

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This morning in my small office somewhere in the nation’s capital, I had the fortune of chancing on my old school notebook, which I used in my philosophy-first-year in 1988, and the aspect that pulled greater interest was where I wrote down the functions of a social psychologist.

I had written that: “A Social psychologist investigates group influences upon the behaviour of individuals, the behaviour of people in crowds, works, groups amongst others. The major area of focus of a social psychologist are attitudes, formation and change affiliation (association); interpersonal attraction, conformity and social perception.”

This fundamental background information came in handy as I reflect on the blossoming political undertones that have characterised the choice of the next substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). The decision of who becomes the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria is mired in needless controversy, and it’s enveloped by a monumental cloud of uncertainty in the last two months. No thanks to the illogical refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to comply with the constitutional recommendation of the most Senior Supreme Court Justice, Mr Walter Onoghen, to naturally succeed the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria.

For three decades, Northern Nigeria has produced all the Chief Justices of Nigeria. Now that Cross Rivers State-born Justice Onoghen is constitutionally qualified to become the CJN, as of merit and competence. President Buhari is playing hide-and-seek political game.

There are widespread public perceptions that President Muhammadu Buhari is hatching a sinister plot to supplant the rightful successor to the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria, to enable him pick a northern Hausa/Fulani Muslim justice to become the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria.

The speculations that President Buhari is actively seeking to circumvent the conventional practice of picking the Most Senior Justice of the Supreme Court to become the successor to the outgoing/out-gone Chief Justice of Nigeria finds strong support in the notorious regional colorations of Buhari’s top defence appointments, which favours the Hausa/Fulani Muslim North.

It is common knowledge that in the composition of the National Defence Council, the Hausa/Fulani Muslim core-North bagged 75 per cent of the top appointments, meaning that the members in deciding on strategic national defence matter can comfortably communicate in their mother tongue; thus, not allowing the other two or three non-northern members to flow during discussions.

But in a very big way, the actualisation of this political plot by the northern hawks that surrounds Muhammadu Buhari in the Presidential Villa would damage the standing of the judiciary in the eye of the people. The wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Mrs Aisha Buhari, had publicly lambasted her husband for carrying out the dictates and directives of members of this northern oligarchy inside the Presidency, including Buhari’s uncle and the Chief of Staff.

But I think Buhari had better listened to a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Alhaji Dahiru Musdapher who, in a properly articulated piece, narrated how the public standing of the Judiciary can be damaged in the eye of the public. His thoughtful perspectives are worth repeating here, in the unfortunate situation where either the Executive or the Legislature chooses to disobey court orders; it is the subsisting perception of the moral propriety of the Judiciary that buttresses the resistance of the civil society, the media and the general public against such gross violations of the rule of law. This fact further underscores the importance of public confidence in the Judiciary. It is the all-important source of the judiciary’s moral authority and, as such, the most precious asset of this branch of government.

The erudite former jurist posited: “No modern society can operate without efficient and expeditious performance of legal functions anchored by direct enforcement of rules, together with the deterrent effect of threatened enforcement. The sense of personal security of the citizen as well as the sanity of the social order is to a large extent determined by the extent to which people can arrange their personal affairs and relationships on the assumptions that basic standard of propriety would be met; failing which a trusted system exists to adjust any would-be glitches.

“Thus, societal perception of the integrity of the judicial system occupies a critical role in the promotion of social order, by administering the law in a manner that satisfies the fundamental requirements of justice.”

The retired jurist noted: “This perception gives reassurance to the mass majority of society who bask in the comfort that no person, institution or government - no matter how powerful or wealthy - is outside the sphere of legal authority. This, in turn, encourages the public to willingly submit to the authority of the system.

Germane as the aforementioned facts are, the facts remain that constitutional democracy is anchored on the tripod of respect for Rule of Law, respect for the Fundamental Rights of all citizens, and strict adherence to the principle of Separation of Powers.

The indirect refusal of President Buhari to respect the decision of the National Judicial Council, in recommending Justice Onoghen as substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria, amounts to a breach of the principle of separation of powers. Section 6 of the Constitution is specific on the role of the court system in the smooth-running of constitutional democracy and, if by political design the hierarchy of the court system is unduly politicized, then the public standing of the Judiciary is put on the spot.

Section 6 states thus: “(1) The Judicial Powers of the Federation shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established for the Federation.

(2) The judicial powers of a State shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established, subject as provided by this Constitution, for a State.

(3) The courts to which this section relates, established by this Constitution for the Federation and for the States, specified in subsection (5) (a) to (1) of this section, shall be the only superior courts of record in Nigeria; and save as otherwise prescribed by the National Assembly or by the House of Assembly of a State, each court shall have all the powers of a superior court of record.

(4) Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this section shall be construed as precluding:- (a) the National Assembly or any House of Assembly from establishing courts, other than those to which this section relates, with subordinate jurisdiction to that of a High Court; (b) the National Assembly or any House of Assembly, which does not require it, from abolishing any court which it has power to establish or which it has brought into being.

(5) This section relates to:- (a) the Supreme Court of Nigeria; (b) the Court of Appeal; (c) the Federal High Court; (d) the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (e) a High Court of a State; (f) the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (g) a Sharia Court of Appeal of a State; (h) the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; (i) a Customary Court of Appeal of a State; (j) such other courts as may be authorised by law to exercise jurisdiction on matters with respect to which the National Assembly may make laws; and (k) such other court as may be authorised by law to exercise jurisdiction at first instance or on appeal on matters with respect to which a House of Assembly may make laws.

(6) The judicial powers vested in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this section - (a) shall extend, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this constitution, to all inherent powers and sanctions of a court of law; (b) shall extend, to all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any persons in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person; (c) shall not, except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, extend to any issue or question as to whether any act of omission by any authority or person or as to whether any law or any judicial decision is in conformity with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy set out in Chapter II of this Constitution; (d) shall not, as from the date when this section comes into force, extend to any action or proceedings relating to any existing law made on or after 15th January, 1966 for determining any issue or question as to the competence of any authority or person to make any such law.”

The deliberate delay in submitting the name of the next-in-line, in the succession plan of the National Judicial Council, has given rise to wild speculations that just like how President Buhari single-handedly gave all the top defence positions to Hausa/Fulani Northern Muslims, that there is a sinister plot to bypass Justice Onoghen for a northerner from Bauchi State.

If this is carried out as speculated, therefore - the integrity, respectability, status and global judicial purification role of the Court System would have been politically tainted and contaminated.

We are in the know that there are, indeed, serious efforts from northern hawks to alter the seniority rule that should automatically make the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria the substantive CJN.

Why, for the first time in over 30 years, did the President fail to submit the name to Senate for confirmation as substantive CJN, as was constitutionally recommended by the rightful authority: NJC?

In the last 30 years – a section of Nigeria – the north has consistently produced Nigeria’s Chief Justices, and the tradition of seniority had become conventional for those numbers of years.

For emphasis/confirmation, you may wish to, to read the historical trajectory of appointment of CJN as follows:

Hon Justice Stafford Foster Sutton (past CJF)

Hon Justice Adetokunbo Ademola KBE, GCON, 1958 -

Hon Justice Taslim Olawale Elias CFR, GCON, 1972-

Hon Justice Darnley Arthur Alexander CBE, KCMG, CFR, GCON, 1975 -

Hon Justice Atanda Fatai-Williams CON, GCON, 1979-

Hon Justice George Sodeinde Sowemimo CON, GCON, 1983-

Hon Justice Ayo Gabriel lrikefe OFR, CON, GCON 1985-

Hon Justice Muhammed Bello CON, GCON, 1987-

Hon Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais CON, GCON, 1995-

Hon Justice Salisu Modibo Alfa-Belgore CON, GCON, 2006-

Hon. Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi CON, GCON, 2007-

Hon Justice Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu CON, GCON, 2010-

Hon Justice Dahiru Musdapher CON, CFR, FNIALS, GCON, 2011-

Hon Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar JSC, CON, CFR, FNIALS, GCON, 2012-

Hon Justice Mahmud Mohammed GCON, 2014-2016.

Let President Buhari stop playing god and do the needful, by sending Justice Onoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via

Source News Express

Posted 28/01/2017 8:07:18 PM


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