On Tuesday, March 07, 2017, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo swore in Walter Onnoghen as the 17th Chief Justice of Nigeria. The ceremony was conducted inside the council chambers of Aso Rock. Onnoghen hails from Cross River state in the south south Nigeria. He was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 10, 2016 after the retirement of former Chief Justice, Mahmoud Mohammed.
From then till the swearing he has been on acting capacity. There were mild protests from groups alleging that Buhari was unwilling to swear him in as CJN because he is not from the Northern oligarchy of President Buhari. But Onnoghen advised the protesting Nigerians to stay cool, insisting that Buhari should be allowed to take his decisions.
But on Tuesday, March 07, 2017, the long wait was brought to an end as Acting President Yemi Osibanjo swore in the long waiting CJN. This swearing was historic. But one thing is important here. When former President Goodluck Jonathan was Vice President, he could not swear in CJN who was waiting to be sworn in. There were pressures from all angles for Jonathan to do so but he could not.
Barrister Onome Oboh in Asaba, Delta state, explained the reason why Osibanjo could swear in the CJN but Vice President Goodluck Jonathan then could not do so. According to him, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua did not transmit presidential powers to Jonathan. And so Jonathan was powerless as at then.
He said: “At the time of Jonathan there was no transmission of power from Yar’Adua to him. That is the difference. As Vice President, the constitution does not give you power to do anything that the president does.
“But once you are Acting President, you can do virtually everything the president can do. As at the time of Jonathan then, he was not acting president, that doctrine of necessity could not be applied.
“But as it is now, Osibanjo has been clothed with the authority of the president, hence, he can do whatever the president can do. That is why he could swear in the CJN or any other officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Because Yar’ Adua could not transmit powers to Jonathan when he travelled for medical check up, there was a constitutional crisis when it was getting close for the then CJN, Idris Kutigi, to leave office. Pressure was mounted but Jonathan told the groups that he had no constitutional backing to do their bidding.
Different groups protested, backed by personalities but the kitchen cabinet of Yar’ Adua and the cabals fought against the move for Jonathan to do that. Some said Yar’Adua could rule the country from anywhere in the world. This was in 2009.
Then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mike Aondoakaa, told Nigerians that the powers of the president could be exercised from anywhere in the world. He even listed planes, on the sickbed, at the meeting of the United Nations as far as he is not incapacitated.
While the legal fireworks were going on, the tenure of Idris Kutigi, the then CJN was getting close to leave while Alloysius Katsina-Alu was waiting to be sworn in. As the battle was going on here in Nigeria, Yar’Adua was battling a disease in Saudi Arabia.
Jonathan had told the people who cared to listen: “As the Vice President, I have no powers to swear in the Chief Justice of Nigeria. The traditional has been there for many years. It is Mr. President who swears in the chief justice of Nigeria.”
But as fate would have it, while the crisis was going on, the Attorney General brought to Jonathan an act which indicated that either the President or the Chief Justice of the Federation could swear in a new CJN. And that was it.
The solution was found. Retiring Idris Kutigi swore in Aloysius Katsina-Alu. Though lawyers raised eyebrows, describing the action as unconstitutional, it was however, the act of parliament that saved the situation.
But in this case, power was well transmitted and that is why Acting President Osibanjo could do all he is doing, besides the swearing in of CJN.