Onnoghen: Court orders Buhari, NJC, to justify choice of Tanko Muhammad as CJN
…asks them to show cause why suit be rejected
A Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Judicial Council (NJC), the Senate and others to justify why it should reject a suit seeking to stop them from appointing and confirming Justice Ibrahim Muhammad as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
Justice Inyang Ekwo gave the order while refusing an ex-parte motion for interim injunctions filed the Board of Incorporated Trustees of Malcolm Omirhobo Foundation.
Justice Ekwo, in a ruling on Friday, an enrolled copy of which was sighted on Monday, declined to grant all the reliefs sought by the applicant.
Instead, the judge ordered the defendants to, within seven days after being served, to appear and show cause why the applicants’ reliefs should not be granted.
“The plaintiff is hereby ordered to put the ‘defendants on notice.
“The defendants are hereby granted seven days, upon being served, to appear and show cause why the application of the plaintiff ought not to be granted.
“Case adjourned to 13th day of May, 2019 for the defendants to show cause.”
The plaintiff/applicant had, in its motion ex-parte, prayed the court for “an order of interim injunction restraining the 5th defendant (Buhari) from appointing the 3rd defendant (Justice Muhammad) as the Chief Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria pending the determination of the motion on notice filed herein.
“An order of interim injunction restraining the 7th defendant (the Senate President) from confirming the appointment of the 3rd defendant as the Chief Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria pending the determination of the motion on notice.”
Named as defendants in the suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/420/2019, are the NJC, the Federal Judicial Service Commission of Nigeria (FJSCN), Justice Muhammad, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Attorney General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In the substantive suit, the plaintiff is praying the court to restrain President Buhari from appointing the Justice Muhammad as the substantive CJN.
The plaintiff argued that the Acting CJN conducted himself in a manner that reduced the confidence of the public in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary.
It argued that President Buhari lacked the constitutional powers to unilaterally suspend and/or removal a sitting CJN from office, as was done in the case of Onnoghen.
The plaintiff wants the court to declare that by combined interpretation sections 1(1 )(2), 231(4), 292(1)(a)(i)(b), 153(1)(i), 158(1) and paragraph 21 (a)(b) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, “it is unlawful and undemocratic for the 4th and 5th Defendants (Federal Government and President Buhari), to declare the office of the CJN vacant on January 25, 2019 and consequently appoint and swear in the 3rd Defendant as the acting CJN”.
It also wants the court to restrain the National Assembly from confirming any appointment of Justice Muhammad as the substantive CJN.
He is praying the court to declare that Justice Muhammad, who is currently the most senior jurist at the Supreme Court, is unfit to replace the sacked CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
The plaintiff wants the court to declare that Justice Muhammad, having made himself available as a tool that was used in the violation of the Constitution, especially with regards to the “illegal” removal of the former CJN, is therefore not a proper and fit person to be recommended for appointment to head the judiciary.
It further prayed for: “An order, compelling the 2nd Defendant (FJSC), to select and the 1st Defendant (NJC), to recommend the most qualified Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria that is fit and proper, to the 5th Defendant, for appointment to office of the CJN, and for the confirmation of the 7th Defendant with a two third majority vote”.
In a supporting affidavit, the plaintiff stated that unless restrained by the court, the Executive arm of government would continue to violate the extant provisions of the Constitution and sanctity of the judiciary.