The appointment of more justices to the Supreme Court, which was held back by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), for over a year, has continued to suffer delay two weeks after the Senate confirmed eight justices of the Court of Appeal for appointment to the apex court’s bench.
Recall that before the Senate confirmation on October 13, 2020, four of the eight nominees had been recommended to the President for appointment since October 2019, but he did not act on the list until August this year when an additional list, comprising four northern nominees, was forwarded to him by the National Judicial Council.
The President sent the names of the eight nominees to the Senate in October.
The four earlier recommended nominees are Justices Helen Ogunwumiju (South-West), Adamu Jauro (North-East), Samuel Oseji (South-South), and Emmanuel Agim (South-South).
The new four candidates are Justices Lawal Garba, (North-West), Abdu Aboki (North-West), M. M. Saulawa (North-West), and Tijani Abubakar (North-East).
The cause of the undue delay in swearing in the eight candidates after the Senate confirmation is unclear.
Ordinarily, once the candidates are confirmed by the Senate, the President sends his approval of their appointment to the Chief Justice of Nigeria who usually within 24 to 48 hours swears in the candidates.
When contacted, the Director of Information of the Supreme Court, Dr Festus Akande, told our correspondent on Sunday that no date had been fixed for the swearing in of the eight justices.
“There is no date yet for the swearing in. I do not have an idea about why the inauguration has not been held because I just resumed from leave,” Akande said.
The Supreme Court currently has 12 Justices on its bench even though the Nigerian Constitution provides for a full complement of 21 for the apex court.
Two senior lawyers, Mr Jibrin Okutepa (SAN), and Mr Femi Falana (SAN), expressed concerns about the delay in inaugurating the eight justices on Sunday.
Okutepa said, “I am worried for the justice system. The Supreme Court handles all manners of cases from all courts and you can’t get justice in that court as quickly as you expect.
“If they swear in these eight, the Justices will be 20, whereas the full complement is 21 according to the Constitution. Some of them will soon retire.”
While calling for the immediate swearing in of the eight Justices, Okutepa also called for the amendment of the constitution “to provide for more Justices of the court and build houses for the Justices as part of their welfare package”.
Falana also called for the immediate swearing in of the justices.
He said, “Section 231 (2) of the Constitution provides that the appointment of a person to the office of a justice of the Supreme Court shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to the confirmation by the Senate.
“It is public knowledge that the appointments of the eight new justices of the apex court were made by the President on the recommendation of the NJC and the appointments have been confirmed by the Senate.
“In view of the congestion of cases in the Supreme Court, the swearing in ceremony ought to be performed without any further delay.”