The Chief Justice of Nigeria-designate, Justice Walter Onnoghen, cautioned yesterday that Nigeria as a country would be finished anytime the judiciary allows itself to be politicised.
He, however, assured that on his watch as the new head of the judiciary, the independence of the third arm of government is guaranteed, as nobody will be able to pocket the judiciary.
Onnoghen disclosed this, while fielding questions from Senators during his confirmation hearing as the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
The CJN-designate whose appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari was confirmed by lawmakers of the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly yesterday, said, “Pocketing of the judiciary is not going to be possible under my watch because that will be the end of this country the moment you politicise the judiciary.”
Onnoghen further tendered an oral blueprint for the judiciary on areas of creation of special courts for the ongoing anti-corruption war, delayed dispensation of justice in pre-election matters, the decision to coop senior lawyers as justices of the Supreme Court, the issue of conflicting judgements by courts of coordinate jurisdiction and disobedience to court orders, among others.
He said, “Actually, it is the government and if the government wants to establish any court and how many courts, the judiciary wouldn’t say no, but I believe if we can do our work together and do the right thing, carry out proper investigation before charging a man to court, and when you get there, be ready to prosecute your case because judges are always there. But there would be adjournment, which most often is not at the instance of the court.”
On the lingering pre-election matters before the courts, Onnoghen said, “If you look back, there has been tremendous improvement in that respect. Today, for instance, every Wednesday is set aside for special panel of the Supreme Court to deal with pre-election matters and there will still be a regular panel.
“Then on Wednesday, another panel that had sat earlier would sit to handle these matters and the intention is to obviously try as much as possible to finish with them so as to give the politicians the opportunity to carry out their duty of governing the state or whatever office they are aspiring to without always having this kind of distraction because, the normal cases are there”.
On the growing spate of disobedience to court orders, Onnoghen said, while it is a problem for the legislature and the executive to handle, a judgment must, however, bark and bite.
He attributed the trend to politicians, who are in the habit of abusing court process, adding that filing different court processes on one matter before different courts was responsible for conflicting judgements from courts of coordinate jurisdiction.
At that point of his submission, the lawmakers who were palpable excited asked Onnoghen to “take a bow and go”, amid applause by Senators. This happened at about 1:00pm in the afternoon.
The Senate unanimously confirmed the nomination of Justice Onnoghen as the substantive CJN.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who congratulated the CJN-designate, said the National Assembly looked forward to a harmonious working relationship with the judiciary under Onnoghen.
He said, “I think he (Onnoghen) appreciates more than everybody else the responsibility and the challenges he has ahead in addressing and restoring the integrity and confidence of Nigerian people in the judiciary.
“We hope, on behalf of his colleagues, that they will continue to ensure that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man and this is an opportunity to continue to close relationship with the three arms of the government. We look forward to a productive relationship between the Judiciary and the legislative arm of government in the interest of our great nation”.
Also yesterday, the senate screened two ambassadorial nominees, Justice Sylvanus Nsofor and Mr Adeyinka Olatokunbo Asekun.
During his screening, Nsofor, a one-time Judge of the High Court of Nigeria, Justice of the Court of Appeal and law lecturer at the Holborn College of Law, London, declined to recite the national anthem when asked to do so by a member of the committee, Senator Gbenga Ashafa. He was, however, asked to take a bow and go.
Asekun, a former retail banker, on the other hand, advised the federal government to embark on rebuilding the country’s export structure in the various countries, in response to a question on how Nigeria can strengthen the Naira through its foreign exchange policy.
He was also asked to take a bow and leave.