TML Exclusive: We Cannot Help Justice WSN Onnoghen- Max Ogar

Barr. Max Ogar

Max Ogar is a brilliant Abuja-based Lawyer.

He is author of  “A Voice From the Inner Bar: An Agenda For the New Wig”; “A Peep into the FCT Judiciary”; “A Compendium Of Presidential Election Decisions in Nigeria” and several other published and yet-to-be-published works. Ogar is well known for his sometimes controversial commentary on trending legal issues.

In a chat with TML, Ogar expressed his views on lawyers’ membership of the Nigerian Bar Association and the appointment of the new chief justice of Nigeria.

Enjoy this interesting read…

TML: It appears you are not a very active member of the Nigerian Bar association. Any particular reason for that?

Max: Involvement in the NBA is not a condition precedent to practicing at the Bar. I am a member of the Nigerian Bar; membership of associations is absolutely voluntary. I am heading somewhere, as such, I deliberately avoid what does not add value to my arriving at that destination.

TML: In your opinion, Is there any nexus between academic excellence and performance at the Bar or Bench?

Max: Interesting question. Whatever a lawyer had in a Law Faculty and the Law School has nothing to do with what happens at the Bar or in the Bench if the person ends up there. The theories in school are a different ball game from what happens practically in Court or in the market place. Beyond the 1st Class or 3rd Class, the capacity that is required for excellence in the Bar or Bench must be built in the Bar or Bench. You don’t read how to draft a good affidavit; you learn how to draft a good affidavit by drafting one, making mistakes in the process, being mocked and making improvements in the process. Same thing with crafting intellectually stimulating judgments as was being done by the Oputas and Niki Tobis.

What makes the positive difference is hard work, consistency in learning, focus and team spiritedness. No ambitious lawyer has any good record of a social life. It was Abdullahi Ibrahim, SAN (a former Attorney General of the Federation) who said “You hardly can find a successful lawyer who is a very good tennis player.”

TML: What are your thoughts on the nomination of Hon. Justice Onnoghen to the exalted office of Chief Justice of Nigeria, even though in acting capacity?

Onnoghen, Acting CJN
Onnoghen, Acting CJN

Max: It is an achievement worth celebrating by every lawyer, particularly those of us who are of Cross River State extraction. I have, particularly, been interested in how we (Cross Riverians) fare in the profession. I have written and published books celebrating Cross Riverians in the legal profession, like “The Ikom Lawyer” and “The Cross River Lawyer”.

The ascension of Justice Onnoghen (the first Cross Riverian to get elevated to the apex Court and the only one thus far) sits in a prominent place in my mind and I am putting together materials for a book to celebrate him. His portrait has occupied a prominent place in my office since 2010.

wsn mahmudTML: What is your reaction to the controversy surrounding the delay in forwarding Justice Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation?

Max: That controversy is absolutely unnecessary. There is no time limit within which the President must forward Justice Onnoghen’s name to the Senate of the National Assembly for confirmation. I have heard people questioning why Justice Walter Onnoghen is acting. The truth is that Justice Onnoghen is not the first and would not be the last Justice of the Supreme Court to assume the number one judicial position in acting capacity. I am certain that WSN Onnoghen would be the Chief Justice of Nigeria upon Senate confirmation. Our complaining and making issues out of it will not make any difference. We (men) cannot help Justice Onnoghen; God who has brought him thus far will see him through.

TML: In other words, are you calling for patience on the part of those who are agitated?
Max: Absolutely. Everything has a procedure peculiar to it. The appointment of a Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) is not at the exclusive discretion of the President of the Country as it is with the appointment of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Service Chiefs. The National Judicial Council which is the employer of judicial officers recommends names (on the basis of seniority) for that purpose which names are forwarded to the President for onward nomination (of one of the two or three Justices) for Senate confirmation. The President cannot by-pass the NJC in picking and choosing a Chief Justice of Nigeria. More importantly, in the case at hand, the NJC under the headship of the Mahmood, CJN restricted its recommendation to Onnoghen, Ag. CJN.

onnoghenTML: What is your final word on this?

Max: Let everyone interested in Onnoghen (Ag. CJN) give God thanks for him. We cannot help him more than God has done. Let everyone know that Onnoghen is entitled to remain on the Bench till he turns 70; he will be 66 on December 25. Let everyone know that no one can (ordinarily) cut short his career by compulsory retirement. Let everyone know that Justice Onnoghen is currently the head of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) which are the two bodies saddled with the responsibility of recommending anyone for the position of Chief Justice of Nigeria. The question is ‘Will he preside over two independent meetings where decisions will be taken against himself by his ‘subordinates’? Never, never, never!

TML: Thank you for chatting with TML

Max: Thank you for the privilege extended to me

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  1. Vintage Max, nice one. However, I think a candidate who is billed to occupy the exalted position of the CJN should be kept in acting capacity for long because that will will somehow put the candidate under subtle pressure to please those whose actions are required to confirm his appointment. This is more so that the vacancy didn’t take the authorities concerned unawares.

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