The Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), on Thursday, nominated the most senior justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, as the next Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
Barring any hitch, he is to succeed the outgoing CJN, Justice Mohammed Mahmud, who is due to pull out from the apex bench on November 10, 2016 when he would have clocked the mandatory retirement age 70 years.
The nomination of Justice Onnoghen has temporarily rested the controversy which initially trailed the succession plan at the apex bench.
It was learnt at a time that the appointing authority had purportedly indicated interest in another justice of the Supreme Court from the North to become the next CJN.
President Muhammadu Buhari is the appointing authority.
The plan, had, as expected, unsettled the judiciary at the time as it was seen as strange, a dangerous plan to politicize the judiciary and an attempted ‘coup’ against the age-long tradition of appointing the most senior justice of the court to take over from the outgoing numero uno.
Even though, the tradition was disturbed in certain state judiciary in the past, such practice never passed without a backlash and was seriously deprecated.
However, in compliance with the tradition, the commission (FJSC) also nominated alongside Onnoghen, the next justice in seniority line for the position of CJN, Justice Tanko Mohammed as well as another senior justice.
They were nominated as stand-by candidates for the plum position.
The practice has however been that the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) nominates three persons whose names are forwarded to the National Judicial Council (NJC), which is the recommending authority.
The council would, in turn, recommend two of the names to the president.
Should Justice Onnoghen scale the next hurdles both at the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Presidency, he would lead the nation’s judiciary through the next election year till December 20, 2020 when he would have clocked the mandatory retirement age.
In the event of any hitch, the stand-by nominee is designed for consideration for the plum position.
If Tanko succeeds as the new helmsman, he would be 70 in 2024.
But there has been no such precedent at the presidency level, though a couple of state governors had shunned council’s choices in recent past.
The Cross-River-born senior judge is the first Southern claimant to the judiciary top-job in about 29 years.
The last Southern CJN was Justice Ayo Gabriel Irikefe, who retired in 1987. There have been seven northern CJNs in-between.
Also on Thursday, the FJSC considered those in contention for the position of the Executive Secretary of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The Council, a creation of section 153 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is a powerful organ that regulates the conducts of judges in Nigeria. It is empowered to hire and fire erring judicial officers. It is headed by the incumbent Chief Justice of Nigeria.
The three front-runners are the Chief Registrars of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, as well as the Executive Secretary of the National Judicial Institute (NJI).
The trio were reportedly recommended to the NJC, with the Chief Registrar of the apex court, Ahmed Saleh Gambo, said to be the favourite.
The incumbent, Alhaji Danladi Halilu, is due to retire in March 2017.