Legal Nigeria

Full and final

For the first time in history, the Supreme Court of Nigeria has the full complement of 21 justices, as provided by section 230(2) of the 1999 constitution (as amended). It provides: “The Supreme Court of Nigeria shall consist of such number of justices not exceeding 21 as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.” To attain that feat, 11 new justices were sworn in last week, by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola (CJN), after their confirmation by the senate and approval by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as provided for, in the constitution.

We commend the CJN, the senate and the president for this laudable milestone. The new justices are Haruna Tsammani, Stephen Jonah Adah, Jummai Sankey, Chidiebere Nwaoma Uwa, Chioma Egondu Nwosu-Iheme, Moore Aseimo A. Adumein, and Obande Festus Ogbuinya. Others are Justices Habeeb Adewale O. Abiru, Jamilu Yammama Tukur, Abubakar Sadiq Umar and Mohammed Baba Idris, all formerly of the Court of Appeal. We congratulate the learned justices on their elevation and hope that they would live up to the expectations of occupying the highest judicial offices in the country.

We urge the new justices to heed the admonition of CJN Ariwoola, who said: “Your moral uprightness, integrity and respect for the constitution and other extant laws in operation, must be unwavering and unassailable.” He went on: “any judgment given at this level can only be upturned in heaven.” He added: “Once your judgment is in consonance with what God expects from you, and is also in accordance with the constitution, you should consider yourself the happiest and freest person on earth.”

Before the elevation of the justices to the Supreme Court, the apex court had only 10 members, which was the lowest in history. And, despite appeals from well-meaning Nigerians, the appointment of new justices to the court was fraught with unnecessary delays and politicking. From the list of the appointees, the advice that academicians and legal practitioners be appointed to the Supreme Court was rebuffed. We urge for necessary changes in the qualification for appointment, to allow for cross- fertilisation of ideas such mixture of backgrounds would bring to the apex court.

With the full complement of 21 members, we hope the undue delays experienced in the determination of cases at the apex court would come to an end. Generally, the Nigerian judicial process drags unnecessarily, with cases lasting 20 to 30 years from the high court to the Supreme Court. In many instances, the litigants die while the matter is lingering in court. Also, businesses suffer, and in many instances don’t recover from the delays in determining commercial disputes that have stayed too long in court.

The health of the learned justices is also affected by the untoward workloads they are exposed to, when the number of justices diminish. One of the reasons for the unprecedented depreciation in the number of justices of the apex court was the death of its members. The most recent death was that of Justice Chima Centus Nweze, in July, last year. There is also the likelihood that the quality of judgments may be affected as the justices try to cover more grounds, especially during an election year, when other cases suffer neglect.

With the attainment of the full complement of the justices of the Supreme Court, we hope the funding will also increase. We recall the diatribe amongst the members of the apex court over allegations of misuse of funds due to the justices by the former CJN Tanko Mohammed, which he denied. The crux of the dispute was the neglect of the welfare of the justices. Such ugly experience must be avoided, in the interest of the integrity of the court and the Nigerian judicial system.

Source:The nation