Southern Nigeria had to wait for 29 years to produce another Chief Justice of Nigeria despite parading an array of legal heavyweights.
When President Muhammadu Buhari swore Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen on Thursday as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria following the retirement of Justice Mahmud Mohammed who clocked 70 on Thursday, November 10, it may not have dawned on many that it was nearly a three decades wait.
The last Southerner to occupy that office before now was Ayo Gabriel Irikefe who hailed from Ikorudu, Lagos State. He was CJN from 1985 to 1987 before he retired.
Onnoghen was born on December 22, 1950 in Biase, Cross Rivers state.
He attended the Presbyterian Primary School, Okurike, Biase, from 1959 to 1965 and proceeded to Ghana for his secondary education from 1967 to 1972. He did his A’Level at the Accra Academy in 1972 and studied law at the University of Ghana, Legon, from 1974 to 1977.
He returned to Lagos to attend the Nigerian Law School between 1977 and 1978, thereafter working as pupil state counsel, ministry of justice, in Ikeja, Lagos and Ogun states between 1978 and 1979.
Between 1979 and 1988, he was a partner in the law firm of Effiom Ekong and Company, in Calabar, after which he became principal partner and head of chamber of Walter Onneghen and Associates, Calabar.
In 1989, he crossed from the bar to the bench as he was appointed a high court judge by the Cross Rivers state judiciary. He moved on in 1990 to become the chairman, Cross Rivers State Armed Robbery and Fire Arms Tribunal. He was there for three years.
Onnoghen was appointed chairman of the Failed Bank Tribunal, Ibadan zone, in 1998, from where he moved on to become a justice of the court of appeal. In 2005, he was elevated to the Supreme Court.