Justice Tanko Muhammad, acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), says he was unaware of the any order issued by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) against Justice Walter Onnoghen, the suspended CJN.
He said he accepted to be sworn in as the acting CJN “in the larger interest of the country and the Constitution”.
Tanko said this in response to the query issued against him by the National Judicial Council (NJC), on accepting to be sworn in as acting CJN without the approval of the NJC.
The query was issued after a group, Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative, submitted a petition to the NJC demanding that Tanko be removed as acting CJN.
Tanko also said President Muhammadu Buhari does not need the approval of the NJC to swear him in as the acting CJN but added that Justice Walter Onnoghen remains the substantive CJN as he was only suspended.
He said: “In my respectful view, the National Judicial Council has no role to play in the appointment of an acting Chief Justice of Nigeria in the first instance, that is to say on first appointment. The council comes in where the appointment as the acting CJN is to be renewed or extended. I humbly refer to Section 231(4) of the 1999 Constitution.
“It was for the larger interest of the judiciary and the constitutionality that I accepted to be sworn in as acting CJN with the conviction that if the order of January 23, 2019, is eventually set aside, the status quo would be restored.”
He maintained that while Onnoghen is under suspension, “there should be no vacuum in the office of the CJN and the chairman of the NJC.”
Tanko also stated that he was unaware of Onnoghen’s suspension when he was invited to the Aso Villa to be sworn in as acting CJN.
He said: “On January 25, 2019, I was summoned to the Aso Villa at the instance of the President. Prior to the summons, I was not aware of the fact that the Code of Conduct Tribunal made any order on January 23, 2019.
“Furthermore, beyond what I read in the newspapers and watched on the television just like any other Nigerian, I was not privileged to see any of the processes filed by the parties before the tribunal. Hence, I could not really appreciate the merit or demerit of divergent positions.
“On the 25th day of January, the President swore me in as the acing CJN and not as the substantive CJN. Justice Walter Onnoghen remains the CJN until he is removed from office in accordance with the provision of the constitution. He is only suspended.”