Chaos As Chief Justice of Nigeria Swears In New Chief Justice of Nigeria

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San Francisco (THEWILL) -The drama over who is constitutionally allowed to swear in the new Chief Justice of the Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, took a new turn on Monday when the Secretary of the National Judicial Council, Mr. Danladi Halilu, confirmed in a statement that the out-going Chief Justice of the Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi will perform the swearing in ceremony for both the new CJN and President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, on Thursday, December, 30.

Nigeria's Attorney General Mr. Michael Aondoakaa had argued over the weekend that the out going CJN was empowered to do so by the constitution.

The decision of both the Judicial Council and the Attorney General has thrown the country's judiciary into chaos as prominent lawyers have challenged the constitutionality of the decision.

Mr. Femi Falana who had questioned the suggestion earlier said, “Justice Idris Kutigi's retirement takes effect at 12 midnight December 31, 2009. Will the ceremony take place at 1am? If he administers the judicial oath on the new CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu during office hours on that day, it means there shall be two CJN's contrary to the letter and spirit of the 1999 Constitution.

“It is hoped that the outgoing CJN will not lend his weight to the serial breaches of the constitution. There is no doubt that there will be legal action to challenge this unfortunate development.”

President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu has also said it would be illegal for anyone other than the President to swear in the new CJN.

“It is not possible in law for the outgoing CJN to inaugurate the incoming CJN, as the country cannot have two CJN's at the same time. This is because the law is very clear. Going by the Oath Act, Second Schedule, the law provides that judicial oath is sacrosanct and it has to be administered by the President on the CJN while the CJN will administer it on other judicial officers.

“But these are based on two things. The CJN must be in office to administer oath on others. But he cannot swear in a new CJN when he is still in office. You are deeming to hold office when you take the necessary oaths of office. But what happens when Kutigi swears in Katsina- Alu and remains behind? Except they are saying that Kutigi will swear in Katsina – Alu few minutes to his bowing out and as soon as he does that he ceases to function as the CJN.”

Chief Adeniyi Akintola (SAN) told the vanguard that the decision has no basis in law or logic. He alleged that another female lawyer sold the idea to the Attorney General.

“The Attorney-General like most Nigerian public officers doesn't have original thoughts of his own. They are not original in their thoughts. That position, with due respect, was not his own.

“The idea was sold by a lady lawyer. She sent e-mail to Aondoakaa (SAN) to sell the idea. She forwarded the same e-mail to many of us, making that suggestion. I do not want to mention her name.

“The truth of the matter is that if you carry out that suggestion, you will be creating a kind of absurdity. Look at it this way: if the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria will be swearing in the in-coming one, I ask: in what capacity?

“If the incumbent swears in the in-coming one before he retires, the implication is that we will be having two CJN's at the same time.

“And, if the outgoing CJN swears in the in-coming one immediately after he retires, in what capacity will he be doing that when he is no longer CJN?

“They are confusing the American situation with ours. In the case of the Nigerian presidential system, the executive appoints the head of the court.

“It is a political appointment. And, necessarily so, CJN must be sworn in by the head of the executive. It is unlike the American situation where the entire public and members of the public are involved in who becomes CJN and even who becomes a Supreme Court justice.

“Ours is a different scenario. Most of the time, our people swallow, hook, line and sinker the ideas of foreign governance without looking at the background and the position of the law in those areas.

“You will be creating a kind of unconscionable absurdity if you say the outgoing CJN should swear in the incoming one.

“The lady flew a kite which was swallowed hook, line and sinker by the AGF.

“She sent it to many lawyers including Professor Sagay, Aturu, Femi Falana and the President of the NBA. She sent it to many senior lawyers.

“The Attorney-General was not original. The truth of the matter is that the country is mired in political quagmire. We have no head of the executive properly so-called. And, very soon, there will be no head of the judiciary. We can avoid this problem if Mr. President had done the right thing to allow Jonathan to stand in.”

However, a former CJN, Justice Alfa Belgore has said it is legal for the out going CJN to swear in his successor. Belgore was quoted by the punch Newspaper as saying that the 1999 Constitution does not specify who should swear in a new Chief Justice. He said, “Even an ordinary High Court Judge can do it.”

Section 231 (1) of the 1999 Constitution states The section states: “The appointment of a person to the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.”

The swearing in is scheduled for 11. a m at the Supreme Court.

In a related development, THEWILL has gathered that Mr. David Edevbie will be returning to Nigeria any moment from now with the 2009 supplementary budget 'signed' by the President. We are unable to confirm if he has a letter from the President to the leadership of the National Assembly informing them of his hospitalization.

We were also unable to confirm as at press time if the Principal Secretary was allowed to see the President.

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