President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday, inaugurated Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, following the retirement of Justice Mahmud Mohammed at the attainment of the mandatory 70 years’ retirement age.
The brief inauguration ceremony of Onnoghen who is expected to act until the name of substantive CJN is forwarded to the Senate and it is confirmed, took place inside the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, and was witnessed by top government officials.
Below are interesting highlights of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria's career: ranging from his pronouncements on culture and tradition to politics.
Trained in Ghana
Born on December 22, 1950 in Biase, Cross Rivers state, Onnoghen will be in office till December 2020, barring any circumstances beyond his control.
He attended the Presbyterian Primary School, Okurike, Biase, from 1959 to 1965 and proceeded to Ghana for his secondary education from 1967 to 1972. He did his A’Level at the Accra Academy in 1972 and studied law at the University of Ghana, Legon, from 1974 to 1977.
He returned to Lagos to attend the Nigerian Law School between 1977 and 1978, thereafter working as pupil state counsel, ministry of justice, in Ikeja, Lagos and Ogun states between 1978 and 1979.
From Bar to Bench
Between 1979 and 1988, he was a partner in the law firm of Effiom Ekong and Company, in Calabar, after which he became principal partner and head of chamber of Walter Onneghen and Associates, Calabar.
In 1989, he crossed from the bar to the bench as he was appointed a high court judge by the Cross Rivers state judiciary. He moved on in 1990 to become the chairman, Cross Rivers State Armed Robbery and Fire Arms Tribunal. He was there for three years.
Onnoghen was appointed chairman of the Failed Bank Tribunal, Ibadan zone, in 1998, from where he moved on to become a justice of the court of appeal. In 2005, he was elevated to the supreme court.
Buhari and the new CJN
Annulled Igbo culture
For gender rights activists, April 11, 2014 was not just another day in the history of Nigeria. That day the supreme court made a landmark pronouncement in the case of two Igbo women, Gladys Ada Ukeje and Maria Nweke, who argued that they should have equal access as men to the inheritance of their parents.
In Igbo culture, women had been disinherited for ages as a result of tradition.
The two women sued the men in their families – and finally got justice as the case moved from the lower to the highest courts in the land.
Delivering the unanimous judgment on behalf of Justices Onnoghen, Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs and John Inyang Okoro, Bode Rhodes-Vivour declared: “No matter the circumstances of the birth of a female child, such a child is entitled to an inheritance from her father’s estate. Consequently, the Igbo customary law, which disentitles a female child from partaking in sharing of the deceased father’s estate, is in breach of section 42(1) and (2) of the constitution, a fundamental rights provision guaranteed to every Nigerian.”
Feminists and gender rights activists celebrated the historic moment. Now that they have a “friendly” judge as CJN, should they expect more justice for Nigerian women?
Upheld Rev. King’s death sentence
Chukwuemeka Ezeugo, also known as “Rev. King”, the general overseer of Christian Praying Assembly, was accused of murdering a member of his church in 2006.
The Lagos state government prosecuted King and he was convicted to die by hanging. King appealed his death sentence by the high court which was affirmed by the court of appeal.
At the supreme court, the panel of justices led by Onnoghen upheld the decision of the Lagos division of the court of appeal, which had affirmed the conviction and the sentence.
“The facts of the case could have been lifted from [the] horror film,” the panel led by Onnoghen held.
“This appeal has no merit. The judgement of the court of appeal is hereby affirmed. The prison sentence that was earlier handed to the appellant is no longer relevant in view of the death sentence passed on him.”
Cancelled Yar’Adua’s election
When Muhammadu Buhari, a retired major-general, lost to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, governor of his home state, Katsina, in the 2007 presidential election, he headed for the tribunal.
Buhari argued, among other things, that the election was rigged and that it should be cancelled and a fresh election conducted.
Never in the history of Nigeria had a presidential election been cancelled, perhaps because of the complications of not having a substantive president holding fort during a rerun.
Some of these political considerations are believed to have discouraged the judiciary from ruling decisively on presidential election petitions. In the end, all who went to the tribunal did so more for the record than to get justice.
However, Onnoghen was not moved by such sentiments. Along with George Oguntade and Aloma Muktah (who later became CJN), Onnoghen annulled Yar’Adua’s election in December 2008 and called for a fresh one.
However, they were outnumbered by the other justices who agreed that even though the election was flawed, the irregularities were not “substantial enough” to lead to a nullification.
These were Justices Idris Kutigi (then CJN), Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu, Niki Tobi (late) and Dahiru Musdapher.
Credits: Punch / TheCable