President Muhammadu Buhari

The drama which trailed the swearing in of Justice John Tsoho, a Christian from Benue State, as Chief Judge of the Federal High Court on Friday by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, has reignited the allegation of an ‘Islamisation’ agenda under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

Justice Tsoho who was the next in line to Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati who retired earlier in the week, was scheduled to be sworn in on Friday morning as the next Chief Judge in acting capacity.

But under controversial circumstances, the swearing in failed to hold as scheduled by 10:am on Friday. The CJN, Justice Muhammad who was to do the swearing in refused to show up for the event.

His reason, it was alleged, was that he was yet to receive any communication from President Buhari, who had since left the country for Liberia, in respect of the appointment.

There was confusion at the Supreme Court, venue of the event. Guests, including a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Andoakaa (SAN), who had come for the ceremony dispersed when it became obvious that the event was not going to hold as scheduled.

No formal announcement cancelling the event was made on Friday, although press invitation was issued by the apex court earlier on Thursday. Justice Tsoho who was also at the venue left.

The action immediately triggered speculations on social media as many commentators alleged that the reason Buhari did not want Justice Tsoho to be sworn in was because he is a Christian.

Parallels were quickly drawn from the case of Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen who, although was in line to be the next CJN after the retirement of Justice Mahmoud Mohammed and was accordingly recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) in 2017, was ignored by Buhari.

It had taken agitations by opinion leaders for Onnoghen to be named Chief Justice, instructively, by Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo, whilst Buhari was away to London on medical leave – the ethnic colouration was also been played up.

The Cross River born Onnoghen was, however, later in January 2019, weeks to the February presidential election, charged by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) over false assets declaration, subsequently arraigned before the Justice Danladi Umar led Code of Conduct Tribunal and eventually forced to retire.

Many have continued to insist that Onnoghen’s crime was being a Christian, an allegation further given credence by the fact that all the three arms of government was then to be headed by people of Muslim faith from the North, who instructively also heads all arms bearing security and intelligence agencies. Again there was the idea that the President wanted him out knowing that the 2019 presidential election would eventually end up in court.

When the CJN failed to swear in Tsoho on Friday morning therefore, many said it was a continuation of an agenda, and that even if sworn in, the EFCC or ICPC would be used to remove him eventually.

“I predicted that this man will not be sworn in to that office due to his religious orientation,” wrote Wanger Ubebe, a Facebook user. “Very soon, EFCC, ICPC or CCT might come for him.”

Another user, Iowuese Sunday noted on the comment section of the Punch story on the botched swearing in that: “Justice Tsoho is from Benue State, is a Christian and you know Buhari’s attitude when it comes to Benue matter.”

“The name of the judge is John,” another user said. “And you expect him to be sworn in? He is a Christian and the agenda continues.”

Tsoho’s was eventually sworn in as acting Chief Judge in the latter hours of Friday by the CJN, in line with the rules that enable the most senior judge to occupy the office of the CJ when the post is vacant pending the appointment of a substantive chief judge.

He was born on June 24, 1959, and appointed a judge of the Federal High Court on Nov. 12, 1998.

It remains to be seen whether he will be appointed as substantive Chief Judge.

 

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