President Muhammadu Buhari has congratulated Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, who was sworn in on Tuesday by acting President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), making him the first person from southern Nigeria to hold the post in 30 years.
Buhari’s congratulatory message was conveyed by Osinbajo, who also decorated the new CJN with the second highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).
The acting president told the CJN that the president asked him to convey his best wishes to him during his phone conversation with him on Monday.
According to him, the Office of the CJN is an exalted office which positions him as the next person to God in the temple of justice, pointing out that the CJN was assuming office at a crucial time in Nigeria’s history when the three arms of government are contending with a credibility crisis.
Osinbajo also tasked the CJN not only to revive Nigerians’ confidence in the embattled judiciary but also to sustain it, lamenting that confidence in the third arm of government as the last hope of the common man had been eroded.
He further noted that since judges voluntarily take up the responsibility of adjudicating justice, they were expected to exhibit higher moral and ethical standards than other citizens, with emphasis that their actions and attitudes must reflect their sense of uprightness.
“From this day, March 7, 2017, Justice Onnoghen becomes the custodian and protector of the highest duties that society owes its people – fairness, justice and truth. The responsibility is an awesome one.
“It is the closest that man serves to the Almighty God, having the powers over lives, livelihoods and the future; having the power to give and indeed to take away power, and the authority to supervise all men and women to whom our law and constitution have given the position of judgeship.
“Since we do not force men and women to be judges, they voluntarily take on the position of high priests in the temple of justice. They will of course be held to a much higher standard, a much higher moral and ethical standard than the rest of us.
“They must not only be seen to be just, they must be just indeed. The mere perception of judicial malfeasance poisons the waters of justice let alone the reality, while delays in the administration of justice often defeats the ends of justice.
“My Lord, you assume this position at a crucial time in the history of our nation. It is a time when all arms of government have suffered the loss of confidence of the people of this nation and it is so also with the judiciary.
“It is a time when our lords and justices of our courts are called upon to resuscitate that confidence that the people of this nation want to have in the institutions of government and indeed in the judiciary.
“I pray that your tenure will revive and sustain that confidence,” Osinbajo said.
He also disclosed that he had a discussion with Buhari on Monday during which he said the president asked him to convey his best wishes to the new CJN, adding that he was of the firm belief that his emergence as the CJN at this moment was a right choice.
“Yesterday, I had a discussion with President Buhari; not only did he extend his personal warm wishes and congratulations, he asked that I personally convey that to you, and I do so now.
“I congratulate you on behalf of Mr. President, all members of your family and the entire judiciary.
“I believe that the choice that the people of this nation have made is a right choice indeed and I pray that you will live up to all of the expectations indeed.
“I pray that the Almighty God will guide and direct you as you deliver on all of the promises and expectations of the people of this nation,” he added.
Responding, Justice Onnoghen pledged to ensure the independence of the judiciary and implored all and sundry to adhere strictly to the principles of the rule of law.
He also canvassed the support and cooperation of all the justices of the Supreme Court in the discharge of his responsibility, disclosing that he was glad to have kept a date with history by his appointment.
Justice Onnoghen expressed his gratitude to God for his appointment. He also thanked Buhari for his appointment and the Senate for confirming him, saying he saw the appointment as a privilege.
He also thanked Nigerians whom he said looked forward to his emergence as CJN through prayers and fasting, and encouraged them to deploy the same spirit to pray for the peace of the nation.
Justice Onnoghen sought the support of every citizen and advocated the need for co-operation and collaboration among the three organs of government, insisting, however, that adherence to the principles of the rule of law was non-negotiable.
“On my part as the head of the judiciary, I assure you that from past experience, the key to everything in a democratic setting is adherence to the rule of law. There lies the solution to our problems.
“Let us try to encourage the independence of the judiciary so as to ensure the rule of law. If everyone realises that they are subject to the rule of law and that there are certain things that are tackled according to the rule of law and behave accordingly, it will benefit all of us,” he said.
Also, when fielding questions from State House correspondents, Senate President Bukola Saraki, who also graced the occasion, said he looked forward to seeing a judiciary that co-operates with the other arms of government.
He also expressed hope that the four years at the disposal of the newly sworn in CJN would present him with the opportunity to reform the judiciary and simultaneously guarantee its independence.
“We want to see a judiciary that also cooperates with other arms of government in implementing a lot of reforms. And I think he has about four years, and that gives time for a lot of reforms in the judiciary.
“I am confident that with time on his side and his commitment to some of the issues he has talked about in trying to ensure that the judiciary is independent, the rule of law is adhered to, then a lot will be expected of him.
“Normally, sometimes, CJNs have a very short period of time, but he will have no excuse not to deliver on reforms in the judiciary. We hope he does that and we wish him all the best.
“There are so many issues that he talked about when he was being screened by the Senate and he has given us the assurances and I think with the time that he has, he should deliver.
“I am confident that he will deliver and we’ll continue to support him on our own part in doing that. The same way we need to support, for example, the constitutional review that will also address some of the issues that will make the judiciary more efficient,” Saraki stated.
Also, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, charged Justice Onnoghen on the protection of the rule of law and independence of the judiciary.
He made the statement Tuesday in his congratulatory message to the CJN, following his successful confirmation by the Senate and swearing-in by Osinbajo.
Ekweremadu, who described Justice Onnoghen as God-sent at this point in the history of the nation’s democracy, noted that the CJN acquitted himself most creditably throughout his career, especially the period he functioned as the acting CJN and during his confirmation hearing at the Senate.
He said: “I congratulate you on this milestone of reaching the peak of your career. I commend your demonstration of candour, deep belief in the principle of separation of powers and, importantly, the independence of the judiciary throughout your career and during your confirmation hearing on the floor the Senate.
“You have left no one in doubt of your capacity in terms of ideas and the courage to reform and reposition the judiciary as well as defend its independence and the rule of law.
“Therefore, I can only enjoin Your Lordship to live up to your assurances to the Nigerian people and pedigree in order to preserve and nurture the nation’s democracy.”
Ekweremadu wished the CJN a successful and memorable tenure.