17 May 2019

Nigeria: Supreme Court Strikes Out Application Challenging Onnoghen's Suspension

The Supreme Court has struck out a motion filed by the Rivers State Government challenging the suspension of Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria.

The court on Friday said it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter and consequently dismissed the application.

Following the suspension of Mr Onnoghen in January, by an order of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the Rivers State Government approached the Supreme Court with a request that the apex court should invoke section 232 (1) of the constitution to assume original jurisdiction on the matter.

The section provides thus: "The Supreme Court shall, to the exclusion of any other court, have original jurisdiction in any dispute between the Federation and a State or between States if and in so far as that dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends. "

The import of the above provision is that where the Supreme Court assumes original jurisdiction, a matter does not necessarily have to emerge from the lower court before it can be entertained by the apex court.

But in a reaction to the application, the federal government said the section relied upon by the Rivers State Government only allows the Supreme Court to assume original jurisdiction where the matter involves a particular state and federal government.

According to the court, the matter for which the instant application was brought does not involve a dispute between the Rivers government and the federal government.

In a judgement read out by Paul Galinje, the apex court agreed with the submissions of the federal government that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter.

Consequently, the court upheld the objection raised by the solicitor general of the Federation, Dayo Apata, and ruled that it would not delve into the merit of the substantive application.

In a dissenting judgement delivered by Justice Mary Odili however, the judge said the section also allows the Supreme Court to assume original jurisdiction where the dispute involves any question on which the extent of a legal right depends.

She, therefore, held that the court had jurisdiction in the matter and decided to entertain the original application.

The Rivers State government had demanded the nullification of the January, 25 suspension of Mr Onnoghen, citing violations of the constitutional provisions.

In the dissenting judgement, Mrs Odili agreed with the submissions of the Rivers State government and allowed their application.

Mrs Odili presided over the five-member panel that gave the judgement.

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