The nation may be plunged into a constitutional crisis in about three weeks as the tenure of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammad Tanko, comes to an end.
Tanko was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 25, 2019 following an order by the Code of Conduct Tribunal that the substantive CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, be suspended and the next in line of seniority, be sworn in.
The constitution states that the President cannot
Onnoghen has challenged his suspension before the Court of Appeal but the court has withheld judgment for unknown reasons while the case before the CCT has been given an accelerated hearing.
Buhari will only be able to extend Justice Tanko’s tenure if the NJC sends his name to the President for confirmation. He will subsequently be expected to send his name to the Senate for confirmation.
However, the Senate led by Senate President Bukola Saraki, is at loggerheads with the executive.
The upper chamber of the National Assembly harshly criticised Buhari for suspending Onnoghen and had even threatened to drag the executive arm of government to the Supreme Court.
Reliable sources in the Presidency feared that if Buhari nominates Muhammad as the CJN to the Senate, the current set of lawmakers would likely reject his nomination.
Speaking with The Punch, however, Chief Robert Clarke (SAN) said it was too early to speculate as the NJC still have three weeks.
Clarke said the constitution is clear that the appointment of judges should be on the basis of seniority and since Onnoghen remained under suspension, the NJC would have to extend the tenure of Justice Tanko, who is also being probed by the council.