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S’Court strikes out River State’s challenge of Onnoghen’s suspension as CJN
THE Supreme Court has struck out the suit filed by the River State Government challenging the suspension of Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
A five-man panel of justices, headed by Justice Paul Galinje, gave the ruling on Friday in Abuja, saying that the court does not have the jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
However, one member of the panel, Justice Mary Odili, gave a dissenting judgement saying that the application was in order and that Onnoghen’s suspension was against the laid-down procedures.
Onnoghen was suspended from office by President Muhammadu Buhari following allegations of corruption and false assets declaration. Buhari also swore in Tanko Mohammed to serve as Acting CJN.
Onnoghen would later tender his resignation to President Buhari.
Consequently, the Rivers State Government filed an application before the Supreme Court asking it to assume original jurisdiction on the matter in accordance with the provisions of section 232 (1) of the constitution.
The section reads: “The Supreme Court shall, to the exclusion of any other court, have original jurisdiction in any dispute between the Federation and a State or between States if and in so far as that dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends.”
However, the federal government, through the Solicitor General of the Federation, Dayo Apata, argued that the Supreme Court could only assume original jurisdiction where the matter in contention was between a state and the federal government. It argued that the case of Onnoghen’s suspension was not between the federal government and the Rivers State government hence the Supreme Court cannot assume jurisdiction on it.
Delivering the lead judgement on Friday, Justice Galinje agreed Apata’s submission that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter since it was not originally between the federal government and the Rivers State government.
Galinje then ruled that the panel would not go into the merit of the substantive application, which is to determine whether Onnoghen’s suspension followed due process or not.
In her minority ruling, however, Justice Mary Odili pointed out that section 232(1) of the constitution also empowers the Supreme Court to assume original jurisdiction where the dispute involves any question on which the extent of a legal right depends.
She, therefore, held that the court had jurisdiction in the matter and decided to entertain the original application.
Odili, who is the wife of former Rivers State Governor, Peter Odilli, went on to uphold the application of the Rivers State Government, ruling that Onnoghen’s suspension by President Buhari was in violation of relevant provisions of the 1999 constitution as amended.