THE Senate yesterday confirmed Justice Walter Onnoghen as the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, just as he has said that no one would pocket the judiciary under his watch.
According to the CJN, judiciary under him would not bow to external influence, adding, “I remain who I am. It will be very impossible to pocket the judiciary under my watch; I don’t think it will ever happen.”
With his confirmation by the Senate, he becomes the 15th person to occupy the exalted seat after Nigeria’s independence in 1960.
Onnoghen who appeared before the Senators at the Chambers which lasted 1 hour 16 minutes where he was confronted with questions by the lawmakers, however vowed to ensure independence of judiciary forms one his Cardinal objectives as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Onnoghen who took a swipe at the culture of utter disregard of the judiciary through blunt refusal to execute court rulings, however condemned in very strong terms, disregard for court judgements by Nigerians, just as he disclosed that the judiciary was not opposed to setting up special courts for corruption.
The new CJN who noted that delay in concluding trials on corruption related cases was due to poor investigation as well as indulgent prosection, said: ” I believe it takes three to have an effective and efficient judiciary. In criminal prosecution for instance you need to have an effective and efficient investigator who will investigate first before charging to court based on his evidence, a lead prosecutor who will go through this when the investigator brings this report to him to go through and decide whether it has any weight. You have the judge who is the final arbiter. If matters that get to court are properly ready for trial, actually you will normally see them moving from day to day and expediously.
“Actually it is the government and if the government wants to establish any court, the judiciary wouldn’t say no, but I believe if we can do the right thing and carry out proper investigation before charging the man to court and when you get there be ready to prosecute your case, judges are always there.”
When asked to explain what measures he would take to lift Nigerian judiciary to the level of those in countries like the United Kingdom and United States, Onnoghen who noted that the system in Nigeria waa not the same with what operates in those two countries, said, “Our system is quite different from that of the UK and the US. In those countries, immediately a judgement is given, the President obeys and if he does not like it, he seeks constitutional means of avoiding it. Is that what operates here? Are you ready to adopt that system here? ”
When asked by a senator whether the delay by the executive arm of government in nominating him might not affect his handling of issues as they relate to ensuring the independence of the judiciary, Onnoghen who disagreed said that he would sustain his reputation he had built over the years, adding, “I assure you that the independence of the judiciary would be improved upon under my watch. That one cannot be compromised because the Judiciary is the last hope of not just the common man but indeed the hopebof everybody”
On the question of delay in my appointment is subject to confirmation because the nomination had already been done by the NJC, he said, ” The fear of me not exhibiting the uncommon courage that has earlier been exhibited I assure you that I remain whom I have been on the bench right from the beginning and intend to end that way by the special grace of God.
“I believe it only need to see a judge before you can have justice and I also believe that it takes two to have a dispute and I know that most of them don’t have the same story to tell as to the reason for that dispute. A judge comes in to try to apply some rules to determine which of the two will be a likely person and I believe if we equal know that both of us who have disputes and approach the court can never work out as winners that one must win and one must lose that the stronger case will always be the decision of the court then the better for all of us and the better for the judiciary of the judiciary of any nation at all.”
Onnoghen who was opposed to suggestions that the appointment of CJN be thrown open so that even tge most junior justice of tge Supreme Court could be appointed if he merits it, said that if such appointment was thrown open, the game of lobbying would take preeminence over the traditional practice of nominating the most senior.
Explaining his he had tried to ensure boost the workings of the judiciary since he became acting CJN, Justice Onnoghen said, “you look back there has been tremendous improvement in that respect. Today, for instance every Wednesday is set aside for special panel of the supreme court to deal with Pre-election matters and there will still be a regular panel. Then on Wednesday, another panel that have sat earlier would sit to handle this matter and the intention is to obviously try as much as possible to finish with them so as to give the politician the opportunity to carry out their duty of governing the state or whatever office they are aspiring to without always having this kind of distraction because the normal cases are there. So far, they have enjoyed tremendous cooperation.
“Already, as I came on board for instance I have tried to really understand. I have passed different circulars to all the heads of the Nigerian judiciary in the country to send me details of pending matters on corruption”
On the need for separate courts, he said, “Actually it is the government and if the government wants to establish any court and how many courts, the judiciary wouldn’t say no, but I believe if we do the right thing carry out proper investigation before charging the man to court and when you get there be ready to prosecute your case because judges are always there, but there would be adjournment most often not at the instance of the court. The decision has to either go by way of establishment of specialised court for corruption.”
In his remark, Senate President Bukola Saraki congratulated Onnoghen on his confirmation as the CJN, describing it as another milestone in the history of Nigeria’s democracy.
According to Saraki, Onnoghen appreciated more than anybody else the enormity of responsibilities and challenges ahead of him and consequently, counselled him to ensure the restoration of the confidence of Nigerians in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man.
The CJN’s confirmation by the upper Chambers yesterday came after months of dilly dallying by President Muhammadu Buhari to submit his name to the Senate for screening and confirmation, even as he was in acting capacity for four months.
Onnoghen who is from Cross River State is the first Southern jurist to qualify for the CJN position in about 30 years, just as President Buhari had on November 10, 2016, okayed him to head the judiciary in acting capacity and the appointment which was based on recommendation letter from the National Judicial Council, NJC, followed the retirement of former CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, who bowed out upon clocking the 70 years mandatory retirement age.
Senate President Bukola Saraki had last week confirmed a letter from Acting President Yemi Osinbajo requesting the Senate to screen and confirm Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN.
Reading Osinbajo’s letter on Onnoghen dated 7th February, 2017, Saraki noted that the senate was urged to confirm Onnoghen pursuant to Section 231 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The letter read, “Following the recommendation of the National Judicial Council(NJC), I hereby notify you of the appointment of Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria(CJN). The Senate President is requested to kindly present the said appointment of the Honourable Justice Onnoghen for confirmation by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, pursuant to section 231(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
” Please accept, Mr. Senate President, the assurances of my highest regards.”
Former heads of the judiciary arm of government in Nigeria particularly since independence are Adetokunbo Ademola (1958–1972); Taslim Olawale Elias (1972–1975); Darnley Arthur Alexander(1975–1979); Atanda Fatai Williams (1979–1983); George Sodeinde Sowemimo(1983–1985); Ayo Gabriel Irikefe(1985–1987); Mohammed Bello(1987–1995); Muhammad Lawal Uwais(1995–2006); Salihu Moddibo Alfa Belgore(2006–2007); Idris Legbo Kutigi(2007–2009); Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu(2009–2011); Dahiru Musdapher(2011–2012); Aloma Mariam Mukhtar(2012–2014); Mahmud Mohammed(2014–2016); and Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen.