I was not aware of Onnoghen’s suspension – Acting CJ Tanko

I was not aware of Onnoghean's suspension - Acting CJ Tanko

The Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Muhammad Tanko has denied knowledge of the suspension of former chief Justice Walter Onnoghen.

The Acting CJN said that he was not aware of Justice Onnoghen’s suspension before he was sworn in to act as Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari. He also denied knowledge of Justice Onnoghen’s prosecution by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), citing that he agreed to be sworn in as acting chief justice for the interest of Nigeria and the constitution.

I was not aware of Onnoghean's suspension - Acting CJ Tanko
I was not aware of Onnoghean’s suspension – Acting CJ Tanko

Acting Chief justice Tanko made these denials while replying the queries issued to him by the National Judicial Council (NJC), for accepting to be sworn in as acting CJN without the council’s approval.

The National Judicial Council issued this query to Justice Sanko in reaction to a petition submitted to the council by the Centre for Justice and Peace Initiative group seeking the removal of Justice Tanko as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.

Replying to his query, Justice Tanko challenged the National Judicial Council citing that President Muhammadu Buhari does not need the council’s clearance before swearing him in as CJN. He also acknowledged that Justice Onnoghen is still the substantive Chief Justice as he is only suspended.


On January 25, 2019, I was summoned to the Aso Villa at the instance of the President. Prior to the summons, I was not aware of the fact that the Code of Conduct Tribunal made any order on January 23, 2019.

Furthermore, beyond what I read in the newspapers and watched on the television just like any other Nigerian, I was not privileged to see any of the processes filed by the parties before the tribunal. Hence, I could not really appreciate the merit or demerit of divergent positions.

It was for the larger interest of the judiciary and the constitutionality that I accepted to be sworn in as acting CJN with the conviction that if the order of January 23, 2019, is eventually set aside, the status quo would be restored.

In my respectful view, the National Judicial Council has no role to play in the appointment of an acting Chief Justice of Nigeria in the first instance, that is to say on the first appointment. The council comes in where the appointment as the acting CJN is to be renewed or extended. I humbly refer to Section 231(4) of the 1999 Constitution.

 There should be no vacuum in the office of the CJN and the chairman of the NJC.

On the 25th day of January, the President swore me in as the acing CJN and not as the substantive CJN. Justice Walter Onnoghen remains the CJN until he is removed from office in accordance with the provision of the constitution. He is only suspended.

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