Justice Tanko Muhammad who is the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria has said that he was not aware of the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen until he was called to the Presidential Villa.
According to Sahara Reporters, Justice Muhammad said this in a response to the query issued against him by the National Judicial Council (NJC), on accepting to be sworn in as acting CJN without the approval of the NJC.
Muhammad claimed he accepted the position “in the larger interest of the country and the Constitution”.
A group, Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, submitted a petition to the NJC demanding that Tanko be removed as acting CJN.
Tanko also said President Muhammadu Buhari does not need the approval of the NJC to swear him in as the acting CJN but insisted that Justice Walter Onnoghen remains the substantive CJN as he was only suspended.
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.
“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.”
He said since Onnoghen is under suspension, “there should be no vacuum in the office of the CJN and the chairman of the NJC.”
“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.”
Meanwhile, the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen was absent from the Tuesday, March 12, proceedings of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, for his trial over allegations of non-declaration of assets.
Daily Trust reports that while explaining his absence to the three-man bench of the CCT, his lawyer, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), said he was informed on Monday night, March 11, that his client was suffering from toothache and he tendered a medical report to support the claim.