As the controversy over the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari festers, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, is facing a serious backlash among his colleagues at the Supreme Court.
Apart from shunning the weekend inauguration of election petition panels by Tanko, it was learnt that nearly all the justices of the apex court, had taken a firm
position not to help in conferring legitimacy on the process that brought in Tanko, though many of them were said not to have any personal animosity towards him.
“A mutiny is brewing here (Supreme Court), because those people you see here (justices of the court), are independent
minded and cannot be coerced into doing what they don’t believe in,” a highly-placed source in the court disclosed last night.
Only a justice of the court, Justice Sidi Bage, was at the weekend ceremony despite invite being reportedly made available to all the justices of the court.
“Though they were aware and available in Abuja, they simply refused to turn up. That is how it may remain until the original CJN returns.
If it were the man they recognised as the legal CJN, all of them would have turned up at the inauguration,” the source who works closely with the apex court told Sunday Tribune.
Buhari is alleged to have removed Onnoghen to stop him from taking charge of the inauguration of the tribunals, a ceremony which became Tanko’s first official assignment.
Tanko had always challenged Onnoghen over seniority, though the suspended CJN took oath before him at the apex court.
His argument was predicated on the assumption that since he got to the Bench ahead of Onnoghen, he should remain his senior, notwithstanding who got to the apex court first.
Onnoghen’s predecessor-in-office, Justice Muhammadu Mahmud, had insisted on the recognition of Onnoghen as being senior to Tanko.
When Onnoghen assumed office, peace overtures were repeatedly made to Tanko.
The acting CJN is said not to be too popular among his colleagues due to the way he had consistently treated Onnoghen
and his quick acceptance of the latter’s position is perceived at the apex court as a coup against the leadership of the court, the Sunday Tribune source explained.
It was further learnt the class action being planned against his controversial ascension to the top-most job, may include outright rejection of fresh appeals allocated by Tanko.
Panels appointed by him to sit on appeals, are also likely to reject sitting, though the court, according to an insider, will continue to determine running cases already allocated by Onnoghen.
The source was confident the storm would be over in a week and Onnoghen would be restored due to the alleged illegality of the entire process leading to the suspension of the CJN.
Checks at the National Judicial Council (NJC) showed that there was no scheduled official meeting, but unofficial meetings were reportedly on to resolve the logjam.
Going by precedents regarding crises in Rivers and Abia states judicial divisions, NJC should suspend and possibly fire
Tanko for accepting the acting appointment without the involvement of the council as prescribed by the law.
Under Justice Mariam Aloma-Mukhtar’s chairmanship of the council, Justice Peter Agumagu of Rivers State Judiciary was
suspended indefinitely and eventually compulsorily retired for accepting acting Chief Judge appointment from former Governor Rotimi Amaechi without the recommendation of the council.
The difference in Tanko’s case is that he automatically heads the council as the acting CJN.
New questions are now also being raised concerning the functions of the Code of Conduct Bureau, which recommended
Onnoghen to the tribunal for prosecution for alleged failure to declare asset and now deciding to update the declaration.
In the Act setting up the bureau, the function provisions as listed in section 3 showed that the president must have been misled in firing the CJN.
The provision reads; the functions of the Bureau shall be to;
(a) receive assets declarations by public officers in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
(b) examine the assets declaration and ensure that they comply with the requirements of this Act and of the law for the time being in force.
(c) take and retain custody of such assets declarations and
(d) receive complaints about non-compliance with or breach of this Act and where the Bureau considers it necessary to
do so, refer such complaints to the Code of Conduct Tribunal established by section 20 of this Act in accordance with the provisions of sections 20 to 25 of this Act:
*Provided that where the person concerned makes a written admission of such breach or non- compliance, no reference to the Tribunal SHALL be necessary”.
Onnoghen had admitted, in writing, not to have declared his assets up to date and decided to bring it up to date when he was appointed the CJN.
By the provisions of the Act, he should not have been referred to the Tribunal for trial, a Supreme Court source argued.