The decision of President Muhammadu Buhari not to forward the name of Walter Onnoghen, Acting Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN) to the Senate for confirmation after he had been duly recommended for the job by the National Judicial Council (NJC), and cleared by the Department of State Services (DSS), was deliberate, Nigerian Times investigation has revealed.
Nigerian Times sources in both the Presidency and the DSS, disclosed that contrary to insinuations that President Buhari did not forward Justice Onnoghen’s to the Senate because he received the recommendation late and was still mulling it over by the time the tenure of the immediate past CJN lapsed, he actually did not forward the name to the Senate because he did not want to.
A Presidency source told Nigerian Times that President Buhari is determined to cleanse what he feels is the rot in the judiciary and he feels the Supreme Court is the best place to start.
According to the source, the president is thinking of setting aside the age old convention of picking the oldest serving judge after an outgoing CJN to replace him. This has been the norm for over four decades and was what the NJC relied on to forward Onnoghen’s name to President Buhari for onward transmission to the Senate for confirmation.
Onnoghen having appointed to the Supreme Court in 2005, is currently the most senior in terms of longevity at the hallowed court.
Ordinarily he should not be acting but functioning in substantive capacity. However, our source said President Buhari’s mind is made up to get the next CJN after Onnoghen’s current stint as acting CJN expires in three months’ time, from outside the Supreme Court.
Nigerian Times sources at the NJC disclosed that President Buhari originally favoured a particular judge at the Appeal Court for the job but had to back down when former CJN, Mahmud Mohammed pointedly told him that the action could throw the judiciary into turmoil as it would upset senior judges in the country.
The President is said to be currently shopping for a new name and is being assisted in the project by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, DSS Director General, Lawal Daura and Prof. Itse Sagay, who heads the administration’s anti-corruption think tank. Presidency sources say Daura in particular is approaching the matter with zeal and is pressuring the president not to have a change of mind on the matter.
It is not clear where President’s Buhari’s radar is focusing on but a source said Sagay himself may end up getting the job.
“The president is taking the matter as a crusade. He wants to get in someone he can trust such that he would hold the lever of power over the judiciary through his influence at the Supreme Court and the NJC. Prof. Sagay as someone who is totally on the same page with him on the issue and who is advising him on the anti-corruption fight may even end up getting the job,” our source in the Presidency said. The plan is to appoint another justice as replacement for the CJN in acting capacity if the public mood still does not permit of the move in three months time. But eventually, the president and his team intend to to spring their choice on the country.