Following the retirement of Justice Mahmud Mohammed on attainment of the mandatory retirement age of 70, President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday sworn in Justice Walter Onnoghen as the acting Chief Justice of the country.
It would be recalled that Justice Onnoghen’s name was recently sent to the President by the National Judiciary Council (NJC) for appointment as the Chief Justice. The President is constitutionally expected to send his name to the Senate for approval.
If approved by the Senate, Justice Onnoghen who hails from Cross-River State, he will become the first Southern jurist to head the judiciary in about 29 years. Justice Ayo Gabriel Irikefe who retired in 1987 was the last Southern CJN.
Though section 231(1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, conferred on President Buhari the power to appoint a CJN on the recommendation of the NJC, it however stressed that such appointment must be subject to confirmation by the Senate.
According to section 231(3), “A person shall not be qualified to hold the office of the CJN or of a Justice of the Supreme Court, unless he is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and had been so qualified for a period of not less than fifteen years”.
Present at the occasion which took place at the Presidential villa were Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and many other justices of the Supreme and Appeal courts.
Speaking at the swearing in ceremony on Thursday in Abuja, President Buhari challenged the judicial arm of government to partner with his administration in bringing Nigeria back into line.
According to him, the judiciary can effectively perform their constitutional responsible by ensuring the success of the ongoing campaign against corruption and making sure that the economy was managed efficiently.
“I congratulate the new acting CJN, who comes at a time that the institution that he is going to head plays the role of one of the constitutional bodies at this trying time of our nation.
“In this room contains the constitutional bodies that are responsible for the bringing Nigeria back into line in terms of security and managing it efficiently while making sure that the economy is resuscitated and that security of doing business at all stages in the country is free and fair.
He congratulated the immediate past CJN, and urged the acting one to play his constitutional role diligently.
“I am being honoured today as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to say goodbye to the former Chief Justice and to congratulate him for the time he spent in the highly respected position.
“I sincerely congratulate the outgoing CJN and wish him the best of luck in his retired life, and I wish the incoming CJN a successful tour of this vital constitutional body of our country,’’ he added.
In his remarks, the acting CJN, Justice Onnoghen, reassured that his tenure would witness the fullest cooperation of the third arm of government in the continuation of the war against corruption and misconduct in the judiciary.
According to him, he will continue from where his predecessors stopped.
“I intend to carry on from there, modify certain areas but with the general ultimate gain of having a better judiciary befitting the nation, Nigeria.’’
He thanked the President for the confidence reposed on him, saying “by the grace of God we shall succeed.’’
Hon. Justice W.S. Nkanu Onnoghen was born on the 22nd December, 1950 at Okurike Town, Biase L.G.A. of Cross Rivers State.
He attended the Presbyterian Primary School, Okurike Town between 1959 and 1965.
He later proceeded to Accra, Ghana to attend Odorgorno Secondary School, Adabraka, Accra, Ghana between 1967 and 1972 for his West African Examination Council (WAEC) Exams.
He was at Accra Academy, Accra Ghana between 1972 and 1974 for his WAEC (A-Levels) before proceeding to the University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana between 1974 and 1977 to obtain his Bachelor of Law Degree (LL.B (Hons)) and graduated with 2nd Class Upper Division.
He attended the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos between 1977 and 1978 for his B.L certificate.
His previous professional appointments/positions held include:
Pupil State Counsel, Ministry of Justice, Ikeja, Lagos, Ogun State (1978 – 1979)
Partner in the Law Firm of Effiom Ekong & Company, Calabar (1979 – 1988)
Principal Partner/Head of Chamber of Walter Onneghen & Associates, Calabar (1988 -1989)
High Court Judge, Cross Rivers State Judiciary (1989 – 1998)
Chairman, Cross Rivers State Armed Robbery and Fire Arms Tribunal (1990 – 1993)
Chairman, Judicial Enquiry into the Crisis between Student of the University of Calabar and Obufa Esuk Orok Community, Calabar (1996)
Chairman, Failed Bank Tribunal, Ibadan Zone (1998)
Judge, High Court of Rivers State (1992 – 2004)
Justice of the Court of Appeal (1998 – 2005)
A Fellow, Chaterred Institute of Arbitrators, Hon. Justice W.S. Nkanu Onnoghen has attended several conferences and seminars around the world. He is a member of the Body of Bencher and Life Bencher.
Hon. Justice W.S. Nkanu Onnoghen was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (JSC) since 2005.