Appointment of Justice Onnoghen as Acting Chief Justice and the Death of Chief Eteng Okoi Obuli
I arrived Nigeria at today at 5.35 am from Canada via London. Canada is a gruelling 14 hours trip from Nigeria and since there is no direct flight you have to take a flight to London, United Kingdom and then connect another from London to Abuja.
I left Canada on the 9th November, 2016 at 10.30pm (Canadian Time) and arrive London on 10th November, 2016 at 9.30am (London time). I had to stay in the Heathrow airport from 9.30am to 11pm before I was able to catch a flight to Abuja, Nigeria.
During my two weeks stay in Canada a lot of events happened in the country.
One of such events was the appointment and swearing into office as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari of The Honourable Justice Samuel Walter Nkanu (Ofem) Onnoghen yesterday.
Section 231 (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended & altered) empowers President Buhari to appoint an Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria when the position of Chief Justice of Nigeria becomes vacant.
Accordingly, President Buhari appointed Honourable Justice Onnoghen on the 10th November, 2016 when the former Chief Justice Mahmud Mohammed retired in accordance with Section 231 (4) of the Constitution which provide thus: If the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding has resumed those functions, the President shall appoint the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court to perform those functions.
Honourable Justice Samuel Walter Nkanu (Ofem) Onnoghen was the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria after the Retired Honourable Justice Mahmud Mohammed who retired on the 10th November, 2016 after attaining the mandatory age of 70 years.
I heartily, sincerely and profoundly thank President Buhari for the appointment of Honourable Justice Samuel Walter Nkanu (Ofem) Onnoghen as the Head of the Judiciary Branch of Government in Nigeria. By virtue of the appointment Honourable Justice Samuel Walter Nkanu (Ofem) Onnoghen becomes the Chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission and the National Judicial Council respectively.
On the 16th October, 2016 when I appeared before the Senate Committee on Communication in connection with an appointment as Non-Executive Commissioner, Nigerian Communications Commission, a member of the Committee, Senator Olubumni representing Lagos in the Senate pointed asked me: ‘’Why is President Buhari appointing only Cross Riverians into positions of influence. He appointed Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) as Chairman of NDCC; Pastor Usani Usani as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs; Vice Admiral Ibok Ete Ibas, Chief of Naval Staff and you as Non-Executive Commissioner, NCC’’, I simply told him that the President has the prerogative to appoint anybody of his choice into any position the Constitution empowers him to appoint’’.
The truth of the matter of is that President Buhari has shown uncommon love and affection to Cross River State! Cross River State is the first State President Buhari visited after his assumption of office in 2015. President Buhari appointed a distinguished daughter of Cross River State Head of Service of the Federation and had nominated many Cross Riverians into many important and strategic national positions.
President Buhari has a special bond with the Calabar/Ogoja people. As a young Captain in the Nigerian Army during the civil war he was in the First Division of the Nigerian Army that liberated Ogoja and many areas in the present Central Senatorial District of Cross River State. He interacted and interfaced with many prominent leaders of Cross River State including Chief Micheal Ani, Chief I. I. Murphy, Dr Okoi Arikpo (SAN) etc. President Buhari has a lot of respect for our people whom he sees as straight forward and honest.
Another important event, which took place when I was the passage, into eternity of Chief Eteng Okoi-Obuli, my maternal uncle. Chief Eteng Okoi–Obuli was called to the English Bar in 1968 and was a Banker in London for many years before he returned to Nigeria in 1973 to attend the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos.
He was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1974. He was the second Lawyer of Yakurr Origin. He vigorously and intensely practiced law as a private practitioner and distinguished and enlivens the Courts with his brilliant advocacy. He was appointed Chairman of Cross River Rural Electrification Board. After the Ban in politics was lifted by the military in 978 he joined newly formed Nigerian Peoples Party.
He was nominated Deputy Governorship candidate of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) for old Cross River State by Chief N. U Akpan who was the governorship candidate of the Party for the 1979 governorship election. However the governorship election was won by Dr, Clement Isong of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
So after the election the NPN and NPP struck an accord to cooperate and form a collation government. As a result of this accord, Chief Eteng Okoi-Obuli was appointed Minister of State, Federal Ministry of Communications in October, 1979 by the then President Shehu Shagari.
However the accord between NPP and NPN broke in 1981, Chief Eteng Okoi-Obuli was appointed Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources. He was appointed Acting Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice briefly during the tenure of that regime.
After the NPN won the general election of July, 1983 he was again appointed Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources a position he held until the administration of President Shagari was toppled on the 31st December, 1983.
Chief Eteng Okoi-Obuli was appointed a member of the Transitional Committee constituted by General Sani Abacha in 1996 to advise him on the transition to civil administration.
He was a distinguished Ledu Traditional Title Holder. He was the father of many children and grandchildren. May the soul of Chief Eteng Okoi-Obuli rest rest in peace.