The nation may be plunged into a constitutional crisis in about three weeks as the tenure of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammad Tanko, comes to an end, Sunday Punch reports.
Muhammad was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 25, 2019 following an order by the Code of Conduct Tribunal that the substantive CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, be suspended and the next in line of seniority, be sworn in.
However, the constitution states that the President cannot re-appoint an acting CJN unless on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council.
Onnoghen and Muhammad are facing a probe by the NJC, the body responsible for the discipline and appointment of judges.
While Onnoghen was given a query by the NJC to respond to allegations on why he failed to declare some of his assets as required by law, the acting CJN was asked to respond to a query on why he allowed himself to be sworn in by Buhari without the recommendation of the NJC as stipulated by the constitution.
Onnoghen has challenged his suspension before the Court of Appeal but the appellate court has withheld judgment for unknown reasons while the case before the CCT has been given an accelerated hearing.
Buhari will only be able to extend Justice Muhammad’s tenure if the NJC sends his name to the President for confirmation.
The President will subsequently be expected to send his name to the Senate for confirmation.
Clarke said the constitution is clear that the appointment of judges should be on the basis of seniority and since Onnoghen remained under suspension, the NJC would have to extend the tenure of Justice Muhammad, who is also being probed by the council.
He said: “The Constitution will not allow a vacuum in any instance. It says the most senior judge will take over as acting CJN. After three months, the NJC can recommend another three months. He has no definitive tenure.
“The NJC can recommend Tanko (Muhammad) again. I know the NJC will do the right thing. They know more than you and I, they know what to do. The constitution says the most senior. So, the NJC cannot recommend just anyone. Let’s not speculate.”
Human rights lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, believed there would be no constitutional crisis because Nigeria always found its way out of such issues. “The point is when that time comes, a way would be found. The NJC that is still grappling with the issue of the treatment meted to Onnoghen, which is still considering petitions against him and that of the acting CJN for the fact that he presented himself to be appointed by the President, is that the same NJC that will have time that will be considering what will happen to him in three weeks?”