The acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, on Tuesday inaugurated Justice Walter Onnoghen as the 17th indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria with a call on Nigerian judges to strive not only to be seen as just but also to be just indeed.
He also said that Nigerians have lost confidence in all the arms of government in the country.
The inauguration, which was witnessed by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, former CJNs, members of the Federal Executive Council, Justices of the Supreme Court and Onnoghen’s family members among others, was held inside the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Shortly after taking his oath of office, Onnoghen was decorated by Osinbajo with the second highest national honour of the Grand Commander of Order of the Niger in line with tradition.
The acting President noted that with his inauguration, Onnoghen had become the custodian and protector of the highest duties that society owes its people – fairness, justice and truth. He described the responsibility as an awesome one.
He said since judges were not forced to take up the job, they would be held to a higher standard than the rest of Nigerians.
Osinbajo said, “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 delay in the administration of justice often defeats the ends of justice.”
Osinbajo told Onnoghen that he took over the position at a crucial time in the nation’s history when all the arms of government, including the judiciary, had suffered a loss of confidence from the people.
Osinbajo said, “My Lord, you assumed 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 spoke with President Muhammadu Buhari, who is currently on an extended medical vacation in London, on Monday and he extended his good wishes to the CJN.
“Yesterday (Monday), 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 am doing 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. 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 said.
Onnoghen, in his remarks, solicited the cooperation of all stakeholders to succeed.
The CJN said since all the three arms of government belong to the same government, there was a need for cooperation to enable them to move the country forward.
He said the rule of law was the key to solving the nation’s many problems.
He said, “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 they behave accordingly, it will benefit all of us.”
Saraki, in an interview with State House correspondents, also called on the judiciary to cooperate with the other arms of government.
“I think he (the CJN) 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 and the rule of law, a lot is expected of him,” he said.
Also the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, urged Onnoghen to work towards protecting the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
Ekweremadu gave the charge in his congratulatory message to Onnoghen on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Cross River State Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, has commended the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration for swearing in Justice Onnoghen as the CJN.
Ayade, who described the development as putting a round peg in a round hole, said the appointment could not have come at a better time than now, especially given the needed reforms in the judiciary.