The waiting game for Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, ended yesterday.
The Senate unanimously confirmed Onnoghen’s nomination as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) after over one hour question and answer session in a plenary session.
If inaugurated by the President, Onnoghen will become the 15th CJN after independence.
The confirmation hearing started by 11.45am and ended by 1pm.
What followed was a mild protest by some senators who claimed that they wanted to ask Onnoghen some questions bothering their minds.
But many Senators felt that Onnoghen discharged himself creditably by answering questions frankly.
Onnoghen said that setting up special courts to handle corruption cases may not necessarily be the solution to delay in trial of corruption matters.
He blamed the delay on shabby investigation and prosecution. He said that there should be proper investigation before bringing a case to court.
Onnoghen added that it takes three to ensure speedy trial and conclusion of corruption cases.
He named the three as investigation, prosecution and the judge.
He said, “If the government wants to set up any court, the judiciary won’t say no. But I believe that there should be proper investigation before coming to court.”
On corruption in the judiciary, Onnoghen was categorical that the Judiciary is part of the society.
He added, “We agree that there is corruption everywhere. I assure you that we have strong willed, determined judicial officers who are prepared to do their work. I believe that the judiciary will come out from the current situation stronger.”
On some judicial officers facing corruption charges, Onnoghen requested to be excused from commenting on the matter because it is subjudice.
Onnoghen also declined to answer questions on the delay in submitting his nomination to the Senate for screening.
On independence of the judiciary, Onnoghen assured the Senate that he would work to ensure the independence of the judiciary.
”I assure you that the independence of the judiciary will continue under my watch and be strengthened because justice is blind, it doesn’t look at anybody. The judiciary is not only the hope of the common man but the hope of everybody. So, I assure you that the Judiciary will remain independent under my watch. Independence of the Judiciary cannot be compromised. I don’t think that can ever happen,” he said.
On what the Judiciary will do at the event of “reckless” policy statement by the Executive like the Judiciary did in the United States over the immigration policy of President Donald Trump, Onnoghen said the system that operates in the U.S. is different from the system that operates in Nigeria.
He explained that “there if there is a judgment, the President obeys and if he does not like it, he seeks constitutional means to avoid it. But here is that what operates? Are we ready to adopt that system? Don’t forget you must approach the court. The court does not approach you.”
There was pin- drop silence in the chamber when Onnogen threw back the question to the Senate.
Onnoghen said if the appointment of CJN is thrown open, there would be unbridled lobbying for the position.
Onnoghen said if precedent was thrown away, “the entire system collapses.” He noted that whether alive or dead, the decisions of the court would be analysed by generations unborn.
On conflicting judgements by judges, he said conflicting rulings occur when a court was not careful enough to see through the gimmick of some cases.
He noted that they had seen a case with seven appeals.
He added that conflicting rulings are not abnormal because the Appeal and Supreme Court are there to handle such situations.
On the way out of conflicting rulings, he said: “Some of you (Senators) know that your cases stop at the Court of Appeal, but you still bring them to the Supreme Court.”
He told the Senate that a new rule is coming that would compel lawyers to bear the cost of litigation for failing to advise their clients properly.
The Senate erupted when Onnoghen pointedly told the lawmakers that they were the cause of conflicting rulings by judges.
When the mild row subsided, Senate President asked whether Onnoghen would be allowed to take a bow and go.
The senators chorused in the affirmative.