The National Judicial Council (NJC) has given the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, another seven days to respond to a fresh petition against him, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The council, which took the decision yesterday at its emergency meeting in Abuja, also resolved to constitute a complaint panel to look into the various complaints against both Onnoghen and the Acting CJN Justice Tanko Muhammad.
In another development, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayán, has warned of an imminent threat to the nation’s judiciary, owing to moves by President Muhammadu Buhari-led executive arm of government to remove the Onnoghen from office through illegal means.
The NJC had at its sitting on January 29 adjourned to February 11 after it gave both Onnoghen and Muhammad seven days to respond to the allegations against them.
However, a statement from the NJC’s Director of Information, Soji Oye, disclosed that the body at its emergency meeting yesterday received a fresh petition from the EFCC against Onnoghen, and he was directed to reply to it within the next seven days.
“The National Judicial Council reconvened today in an emergency meeting to consider the responses of Justices Walter Onnoghen, and Tanko Muhammad, to the three petitions written against them.
“Members resolved to constitute into the Preliminary Complaints Assessment Committee in accordance with Regulation 17 of the National Judicial Council Judicial Discipline Regulations, 2017 and report to council on February 13, 2019. The Council will reconvene on Wednesday, February 13, 2019.
“Council also received a new petition written by the EFCC against Justice Onnoghen, and forwarded it to him for his response within seven working days”, the statement read.
It added that the NJC reaffirmed its confidence in Justice Umaru Abdullahi, as Interim Chairman of the NJC.
Justice Abdullahi was at its first emergency meeting on January 29, elected to chair the meeting, following the absence of Onnoghen and Muhammad at the meeting.
Onnoghen and Muhammad had recused themselves from the meeting as a result of the petition against them.
While one petition by Zikhrillahi Ibrahim of Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civil Education was tabled against Onnoghen at the NJC, Muhammad had two against him by Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative and Olisa Agbakoba (SAN).
However, another petition against Danladi Umar, Chairman, the Code of Conduct Tribunal by Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative was referred to the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), the appropriate constitutional body empowered to deal with it.
Onnoghen has been charged with failure to declare his assets against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), while Muhammad is accused of making himself available to be used by the executive arm of government contrary to the rules of the NJC.
Following an alleged exparte order by the CCT, President Buhari had suspended Onnoghen as CJN and Chairman of the NJC.
Buhari, subsequently swore in Justice Muhammad as Acting CJN to pilot the affairs of the Supreme Court in the interim.
But the NJC in a swift response held an emergency meeting to properly handle the situation.
The council in line with its procedures forwarded the petitions against Onnoghen and Muhammad to them for their responses.