VIVIAN OKEJEME speaks to some stakeholders who set agenda for the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen
Barely a month after his confi rmation as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, stakeholders in the judiciary have drawn a roadmap which the new CJN is expected to work with in his planned reform of the judiciary. Th e calls from lawyers and many Nigerians for the confirmation of Justice Onnoghen as a substantive CJN, fi nally came to fruition after the Senate voted for his confi rmation. Justice Onnoghen impressed the Senate with his responses to various questions thrown at him when he appeared before the lawmakers for confi rmation.
He shed light on his plans to reposition the judiciary and guarantees its independence as stipulated in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He also talked about how to have a corruption-free judiciary and the establishment of special courts for corruption trial and respect for court rulings, among others. Commending Onnoghen, the Senate President described the screening and eventual confi rmation as a milestone while thanking his colleagues who asked a wide range of questions.
“We are enlightened by some of the views presented today,” said Senate President Bukola Saraki after the screening. Onnoghen’s name was forwarded to the Senate on February 8 for confi rmation as a substantive CJN by acting President Yemi Osinbajo, having been so recommended by the National Judicial Council.
He had been piloting the aff airs of the country’s judiciary in acting capacity since November 10, 2016 when his appointment was approved by President Muhammadu Buhari, following the retirement of Mahmud Mohammed and his recommendation by the NJC. During the confi rmation hearing, the CJN made a passionate plea to be excused from commenting on the delay in his nomination and trial of judges for corruption.
Onnoghen’s position as acting CJN expired on February 10, and the delay in nominating him to the Senate for confirmation elicited clamour that gathered a lot of steams with lawmakers from his home state accusing the President of sectionalism.
Dousing the pressure mounted on the presidency concerning his confi rmation, especially by the Cross River State Caucus of the National Assembly, the Afenifere socio-cultural group and a lawsuit instituted by civil rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, the jurist, in a statement, appealed to Nigerians to allow Mr. President free hand to perform his constitutional duties concerning the appointment.
“Justice Onnoghen believes the president does not need any threat or ultimatum to perform his constitutional duties and therefore dissociates himself from those individuals and groups making such demands on the president. “However, the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Nigerian judiciary sincerely appreciate the interest of Nigerians towards the appointment of a substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria to oversee the aff airs of the judiciary as the third arm of government, but believes that issuing an ultimatum to Mr. President appears to be going too far and smacks of disrespect for the exalted offi ce of the president.
With the brouhaha of CJN’s confi rmation settled, stakeholders in the judiciary have set agenda as he is expected to hit the ground running. Top of the agenda is the call on the judiciary to be protective of the doctrine of separation of power, giving a great boost on reforms for administrative justice already in motion as well as a look into the welfare of judges which in their view is quite deplorable. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, said the new CJN should engage in a revolutionary refocusing of the Judiciary, extirpating, root and branch, all forms of corruption and intimidation of the judiciary. “He should ensure the judiciary is truly impartial and independent, free from executive interference.
He should crusade to have more justices of the Supreme Court to the full 21 member complement in accordance with section 230 (1) of the 1999 Constitution. Essentially, since there are about 17 justices currently on the Supreme Court bench, the remainder should come from amongst the nine lawyers recently nominated from the Bar. “He needs to make the apex court more vibrant, fearless, courageous, self-reliant, justice -oriented and jealously protective of the doctrine of separation of powers. May God guide him.” Also speaking, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mallam Yusuf Ali, advised Justice On¬noghen to carry on with some of his predecessor’s reforms.
The SAN noted that the issue of training for judiciary officers must be improved upon as well as the ap¬pointment of private legal practitioners to the Bench. “I believe the CJN met some set of agenda; I ex¬pect him to go on with those reforms for the ad¬ministration of justice so that justice will be closer and cheaper for our people,” he added. In his opinion, a Pro¬fessor of Law, Ernest Ojuk¬wu SAN, while congratulating Justice Onnoghen, advised him to speed up his already started reforms in the na¬tion’s judiciary. “Chief Justice Onnoghen is already a passionate cru¬sader for access to justice and crusader against de¬layed justice process.
While it is known that the strongest measure against delayed ju¬dicial processes at the ap¬pellate level lies in constitu¬tional review, I urge the CJN to pull no punches in identi¬fying various measures that he can bring to bear in the fi ght against the cancer of delayed trial at the Supreme Court.” Similarly, Prof. Paul Idornigie, SAN, called on the new CJN to tackle the over-bearing at¬titude of state governors on Chief Judges at the state Judiciary by promoting fi nancial autonomy for the judiciary.
“Th e state government overbearing attitude towards the state judiciary is nothing to write home about. If they have their fi nancial autonomy I believe they will not be cowed,” he opined. On his part, a law teacher, Dr. Emeka Hubert tasked the CJN not to let ordinary Ni¬gerians down in the fi ght against corruption.
A c c o r d i n g t o h i m , t h e nation’s masses had for too long borne the burden of politi¬cians’ misappropriation of public resources and urged Justice Onnoghen to fulfi ll his promise to the people, by looking into the welfare of judges that is quite deplorable, thus making corruption attractive. Judges must be given a sense of belonging and security.
Furthermore, another law teacher, Dr. Aliyu Mustapha, charged the CJN to continue the fi ght against planned assault on the judiciary which his predecessor, Justice Mahmud started. “Independence of the judiciary must be pursued to a logical conclusion. The CJN must ensure that the confi dence of the people is absolutely restored so that Nigerians will not at any time doubt the integrity of the judicial system.
Th e storm which the judiciary is passing through now needs a courageous to stand and defend the third arm. Justice Onnoghen should not be timid. He should take full charge of the judiciary. Fight judiciary head on and also uphold the independence of the judiciary.” Mustapha posited.
Now that the ball is on Justice Onnoghen’s court, it is high time he made it a goal as the nation is relying strongly on his administration to bring the nation’s third arm of the government back to its perceived lost glory