HomeBar and BenchCJN Too Powerful, Two Regions Exclusion from S’Court Dangerous – Retiring Justice

CJN Too Powerful, Two Regions Exclusion from S’Court Dangerous – Retiring Justice


A retiring member of the bench at the Supreme Court, Justice Musa Dattijo, on Friday, lamented that the power vested in the Chief Justice of Nigeria was too much and alleged that the refusal to fill the vacant slot of the South-East on the apex court bench was deliberate.

Dattijo said, “As presently structured, the CJN is Chairman of the National Judicial Commission which oversees both the appointment and discipline of judges. He is equally the chair of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, the National Judicial Institute, and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee that appoints Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

“My considered opinion: the oversight functions of these bodies should not rest on an individual alone. A person with absolute powers, it is said, corrupts easily and absolutely.

“As chair of the NJC, FJSC, NJI, and LPPC, appointments as council, board, and commitment members are at his pleasure. He neither confers with fellow justices nor seeks their counsel or input on any matter related to these bodies; he has both the final and the only say.

 “The CJN has the power to appoint 80 per cent of members of the council and 60 per cent of members of FJSC. The same applies to NJI and LPPC.”

Speaking further, he said such enormous powers “are effortlessly abused”.

“This needs to change. Continued denial of the existence of this threatening anomaly weakens effective judicial oversight in the country. Appropriate steps could have been taken earlier to fill outstanding vacancies in the apex court.

“Why have these steps not been timeously taken? It is evident that the decision not to fill the vacancies in the court is deliberate. It is all about the absolute powers vested in the office of the CJN and the responsible exercise of the same,” he added.

Justice Dattijo further decried the exclusion of justices from two geo-political zones of the country from the seven-man panel that heard the appeals by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party.

He said it was dangerous for the nation’s democracy to have left out justices from the South-East and North-Central regions.

Speaking during the valedictory session held in his honour on Friday in Abuja, Dattijo said although the justice representing the South-East died over two years ago, he (the deceased) ought to have been replaced.

He said, “To ensure justice and transparency in presidential appeals from the lower court, all geo-political zones are required to participate in the hearing. It is therefore dangerous for democracy and equity for two entire regions to be left out in the decisions that will affect the generality of Nigerians.

“With the passing of my lord, Justice Chima Nweze, on July 29 2023, the South-East no longer has any presence at the Supreme Court. My lord, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, died on March 7, 2021. There has not been any appointment in his stead for the South-East.

“As it stands, only four geo-political regions – the South-West, South-South, North-West and North-East are represented in the Supreme Court. While the South-South and North-East have two serving justices, the North-West and South-West are fully represented with three each.”

He said with his retirement, the North-Central zone, which he represented, would no longer have a justice on the bench.

CJN says 10 S’Court Justices lowest in history, SANs worry

Meanwhile, some senior advocates of Nigeria have asked the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, intervene in the matter raised by the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, on the number of justices remaining in the Supreme Court.

Ariwoola had, on Friday, at the valedictory service held in honour of Dattijo, lamented that the Supreme Court was left with just 10 Justices on the bench.

According to the CJN, this is the lowest number of justices the court has ever known in contemporary Nigerian history.

The apex court’s bench was reduced to 10 justices following the retirement of Dattijo.

His retirement came after that of Justice Amina Augie on September 22, 2023, and the death of Justice Chima Nweze on July 31, 2023.

Before then, Justice Mary Odili (retd.) had also bowed out of the bench after serving meritoriously and rising through the ranks.

This means that the Supreme Court is 11 justices short of the 21 stipulated by Section 230(2) of the 1999 Constitution.

In 2022, a total of 23 lawyers, including eight SANs applied to fill six Supreme Court vacancies at the time.

This was in line with the call by the Federal Judicial Service Commission to fill the posts.

According to documents obtained by Saturday PUNCH, only judges of the Court of Appeal made the provisional shortlist, despite that the position was open to legal practitioners with at least 15 years post-call experience, as stipulated by Section 231 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

One of the documents showed that 29 judges of the Court of Appeal, drawn from five geopolitical zones, made the list. The North-Central had five; North-West, five; South-South, five; South-West, five while the South-East had the highest, with nine candidates.

However, another letter dated June 13, by the then-chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Judiciary Committee, Dr Babatunde Ajibade (SAN), to his colleagues showed that only judges of the Court of Appeal were shortlisted while all the lawyers were sidelined, which was a continuation of the tradition of elevating only Appeal Court judges to the apex court.

Although Ariwoola said efforts were ongoing to fill the vacancy, some SANs, who spoke to one of our correspondents, said the situation was a national emergency needing urgency from the executive and legislature.

Ariwoola speaking at the service said, “With Justice Musa Dattijo leaving us today after the retirement of Justice Adamu Amina Augie a few weeks ago, we are now left with just 10 justices on the Supreme Court Bench, being the lowest we have ever had in the contemporary history of the court.

“However, I can confidently assure all the litigant public that efforts are in top gear to get on board a sizeable number of justices to boost our rank and complement the tremendous effort we have been investing in the business of the court.”

Reacting, a senior lawyer, Yomi Alliyu (SAN), said the shortage of judges was one of national importance and should be treated as an emergency.

“When the Supreme Court is in such a situation, the union of justices would be held at a stand-still. Every facet of the judiciary would be affected, especially the international community which is supposed to have businesses in Nigeria.

“We have more than 30 divisions of the Court of Appeal and all the cases would go to them. We need nothing less than 35 justices in the Supreme Court, and at least seven panels would be sitting daily to clear the backlogs and sanitise the system.

Another senior lawyer, Ahmed Raji (SAN), told Saturday PUNCH that the shortage of justices may overstretch the justice system, urging the authorities to intervene urgently.

“So, the authorities should, as a matter of urgency, quickly fill the vacancies,” he added.

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