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Buhari suspends Onnoghen, appoints new CJN

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PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has suspended the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen, and has appointed Justice Tanko Mohammed as the acting CJN.

Justice Mohammed was sworn in on Friday shortly after Buhari signed the Executive Order 007.

Buhari said the suspension of the CJN is based on the order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on Wednesday, January 23, 2018, pending the determination of the case of false assets declaration against him.

“The nation has been gripped by the tragic realities of no less a personality than the Chief Justice of Nigeria himself becoming the accused person in a corruption trial since details of the petition against him by a Civil Society Organization first became public about a fortnight ago,” Buhari was quoted as saying during the swearing-in ceremony of the new CJN.

A copy of the speech was shared on Facebook by the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai

“Although the allegations in the petition are grievous enough in themselves, the security agencies have since then traced other suspicious transactions running into millions of dollars to the CJN’s personal accounts, all undeclared or improperly declared as required by law.

“Perhaps more worrisome is the Chief Justice of Nigeria’s own written admission to the charges that he indeed failed to follow the spirit and letter of the law in declaring his assets, citing ’’mistake’’ and ’’forgetfulness’’ which are totally unknown to our laws as defences in the circumstances of his case.”

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Onnoghen’s suspension came barely hours after his media aide, Awassam Bassey, issued a statement saying that the CJN will swear in members of the various 2019 election petition tribunals on Saturday, January 26.

In that statement, Bassey also refuted the reports that the CJN had resigned from office.

“There’s absolutely no truth in the rumours making the round that the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria, His Lordship Hon. Mr Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, GCON, has resigned his office. It is fake news!” the statement read.

“The Hon CJN was in the office all through yesterday (Thursday) and sat in court. As part of his duties, the Hon CJN will be swearing in members of the 2019 National Assembly, Governorship and State Assembly Election Petition Tribunals tomorrow (Saturday 26th January 2019).”

Onnoghen is being accused by the federal government of false assets declaration. The matter is currently before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), but the Court of Appeal had ruled that the CCT does not have jurisdiction to entertain the suit.

This recent development of the CJN’s suspension is sure to further heat up the polity especially given the controversy surrounding whether the president has the powers to suspend the CJN who is the head of the judiciary, an independent arm of government.

Though the CJN is appointed by the president on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the confirmation of the Senate, it is not clear whether he has the power to unilaterally remove him from office.

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