Justice Walter Onnoghen
Justice Walter Onnoghen

The National Judicial Council (NJC) has written to the presidency, requesting that Justice Walter Onnoghen continues to operate as acting Chief Justice of Nigeria pending his confirmation by the senate. NJC wrote to Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo on Wednesday, hours after the presidency confirmed that Onnoghen’s name had been sent to the Senate for confirmation as Nigeria’s Chief Justice.

The Cross River born Onnoghen was due to vacate his role as acting chief justice on Friday, February 10 unless he was confirmed as substantive chief justice or get his acting role renewed through a recommendation of the NJC.

According to a top judicial source who spoke with an online newspaper, Premium Times on Wednesday night, the NJC quickly drafted another recommendation letter to the acting president “in order to beat the deadline of the expiration of the previous letter and for him to continue acting as the CJN while awaiting confirmation by the Senate.”

Osinbajo had earlier on Wednesday, sent a notice of Justice Onnoghen’s nomination to the Senate for confirmation, albeit increasing outcry from a cross section of the public over inexplicable delay in getting legislative approval for his tenure as substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria. “Hon. Justice W.S. Onnoghen’s name has been sent to the Senate for confirmation as the next CJN,” the presidency tweeted the cheering news.

Critics and opposition political forces had criticized the delay, describing it as a confirmation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ethno-religious bias in his political appointment so far.

Onnoghen’s fate appeared to had been sealed when it became obvious that the Senate will not reconvene to quickly deliberate on his nomination. The Senate embarked on a three-week recess on January 26 to give members extra time to work on the 2017 budget and despite receipt of the acting  president’s letter on Mr. Onnoghen, his confirmation hearing will likely wait until lawmakers returned from recess on February 21.

Having refused to cut short its recess despite receiving a letter from President Buhari to extend his medical vacation in the UK, it’s less likely that the Senate would do so over Onnoghen’s confirmation hearing. Senate spokesperson, Senator Aliyu Sabi insists that the lawmakers would only discuss the president’s letter after their resumption on February 21.

By Olisemeka Obeche

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