The Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday struck out a suit challenging the fitness of Justice Tanko Muhammad to hold the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Delivering judgment, Justice Inyang Ekwo struck out the suit on the grounds that the plaintiff, Malcom Omirhobo Foundation, lacked the locus standi to institute the suit.
Upholding the preliminary objection raised by the defendants in the suit filed, Justice Ekwo held that the group’s object of registration does not authorise it to engage in the “public interest litigation” which it claimed to be undertaking by filing the action.
The judge also held that contrary to the claim of the plaintiff to be a Non-Government Organisation, there was no legislation in Nigeria permitting the registration of any group as such.
He held that no group registered under the Part C of the Company and Allied Matters Act, like the plaintiff, could engage in such litigation, calling on the National Assembly to emulate some Commonwealth countries like Uganda and Zimbabwe with separate legislation on registration of NGO.
“I find that no object of MOM2 (object of registration) authorises the plaintiff to engage itself in what it called public interest litigation allowing it to institute this kind of action,” he ruled.
“A body is bound strictly by its object of registration,” the court added.
He also held that while the plaintiff was registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission as Malcom Omirhobo Foundation but chose to institute the action in the name of ‘Board of Trustees of Malcom Omirhobo Foundation’.
He held that the implication was that it was not the registered body that instituted the case.
He struck the suit on the grounds that the plaintiff lacked locus standi to file the action, as it lacked the legal authority to do so.
The judge added that without the legal authority of the plaintiff to file the suit, it was unnecessary for the court to go into the merit of the case.
After the conclusion of the judgment the plaintiff’s lawyer, Malcom Omirhobo, the promoter of the group, accused the National Judicial Council of acting on rascality by recommending the Justice Muhammad to President Muhammadu Buhari for confirmation while the case was still pending in court.
The President had subsequently on Thursday nominated the Acting CJN to the Senate for confirmation in substantive capacity.
Expressing his displeasure about the developments on Friday, said, “This is rascality. The NJC has sold the soul of the judiciary.”
The plaintiff had in its substantive suit filed in April, alleged that Justice Muhammad made himself available as a tool that was used in the violation of the Constitution, especially with regards to the “illegal” removal of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the CJN.
The plaintiff in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/420/2019, contended that with the role played by Muhammad in the alleged illegal removal of Onnoghen, Muhammad who is currently the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, is unfit to replace the sacked CJN.
He contended that the Acting CJN conducted himself in a manner that reduced the confidence of the public in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
The plaintiff stated that the acting CJN “is therefore not a proper and fit person to be recommended for appointment to head the judiciary.”
The plaintiff, among other things, urged the court to declare that the suspension and/or removal of a CJN from office, is a shared responsibility of the 1st defendant (NJC), 5th defendant (Buhari) and 7th Defendant (National Assembly).
He argued that President Buhari lacked the constitutional powers to unilaterally suspend and/or remove a sitting CJN from office, as was done in the case of Onnoghen.
The 1st to the 7th defendants were the NJC, the Federal Judicial Service Commission, the Acting CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad; the Federal Government of Nigeria, President Buhari, the Attorney General of the Federation, and the National Assembly.