Special Adviser to the President on Prosecutions, Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla, said on Sunday that the constitution allowed President Muhammadu Buhari to extend Justice Walter Onnoghen’s tenure as acting Chief Justice Nigeria.
Obono-Obla, who works from the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, lashed out at senior lawyers, who argued that after three months Onnoghen could not be re-appointed to continue to act as CJN.
The three-month tenure of Justice Onnoghen, who was sworn in as acting CJN by Buhari on November 10, 2016, expires on Friday.
On Thursday, Onnoghen issued a statement urging Nigerians to desist from issuing unnecessary threats and ultimatum to the President over his appointment.
In a statement sent to our correspondent on Sunday, Obono-Obla argued that section 231(5) of the constitution allowed the President to re-appoint Onnoghen in acting capacity.
He said, “It is well settled in law that the whole sub-paragraphs of a section of the constitution must be read and construed holistically in order to infer the intention of the makers of the constitution.
“It follows that the National Judicial Council has the power to make a recommendation to extend the appointment of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria after the expiration of three months in an acting capacity by the virtue of Section 231 when read together with subsections 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the constitution.
“In conclusion, the appointment of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria can be extended after the end of three months contemplated by Section 231(5) of the constitution.”
The NJC had since October 2016 forwarded Onnoghen’s name to Buhari, who was expected, by constitutional provisions, to forward the name to the Senate for confirmation.
After Senate confirmation, the President is formally expected to appoint the nominee, who is then sworn in as the substantive CJN.
But since last October, the President had yet to send Onnoghen’s name to the Senate.
Obono-Obla said on Sunday that those who argued that Onnoghen could not be re-appointed in acting capacity were giving an incorrect impression.
He said if recommended by the NJC, Onnoghen could be re-appointed in acting capacity.
He said, “There have been a lot of commentaries and opinions in the media recently by lawyers and interest groups giving the impression that the appointment of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria cannot be renewed. Perhaps, the commentators did not apply their minds to the provision of Section 231 (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).”