Rots inside Supreme Court that undermine dispensing justice — Dattijo Muhammad

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Rots inside Supreme Court that undermine dispensing justice  — Dattijo Muhammad

Retired justice of the Supreme Court, Musa Dattijo Muhammad, has accused the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, of abusing the powers of his office.

Justice Muhammad took opportunity of a valedictory session that was organised in his honour by the Supreme Court on Friday to address what he observed as rots in the judiciary that have continued to affect the justice delivery system in the country.

He said, “Through the years, I rose to become the second most senior justice of the country’s apex court and Deputy Chairperson of the National Judicial Council (NJC).

“Considering the number of years I have spent in judicial service and the position I have attained by the grace of the Almighty, I feel obligated to continue the struggle for reforms for a better Judiciary and would be leaning on the earlier submissions of those who had exited before me,” he said

He maintained that the judiciary, as presently structured, gave so much power to the CJN who he said usually take decisions without consulting other justices.

“As presently structured, the CJN is chairman of the NJC, which oversees both the appointment and discipline of judges, he is equally Chair of the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), the National Judicial Institute (NJI), the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) that appoints Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

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

“The CJN has 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.

“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,” he added.

On the current composition of the bench of the apex court, Justice Muhammad alleged that the refusal to fill the vacant slot of Southeast on the apex court bench was deliberate, blaming it on “absolute powers vested in the office of the CJN.”

He further stressed that with his retirement, the North Central zone which he represented, would no longer have a Justice on the Supreme Court bench.

“My lord Hon. Justice Ejembi Eko JSC who also represented the zone retired on May 23, 2022. It has been a year and five months now. There has not been any replacement.

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

“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 Northeast have two serving justices, the Northwest and Southwest are fully represented with three each.

“Appropriate steps could have been taken since 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 same,” the retiring jurist added.

On the issue of membership of the panel that heard the presidential election appeals by candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the Labour Party, LP, Mr. Peter Obi, Justice Muhammad, 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.

“This is not what our laws envisage. Although it can be posited that no one expected the sudden passing of Hon. Justice Nweze JSC, yet, it has been two years and seven months since previous justice from Southeast died and no appointment was made.”

On funding and independence of the Judiciary, the retiring justice bemoaned that though the budgetary allocation for the Judiciary increased from N70 billion that it was in 2015 to N165 billion presently, “Justices and officers welfare and the quality of service the judiciary render have continued to decline.

“It may interest one to know that the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court earns more than the Justices. While she earns N1.2m per month, justices take home N751, 000 in a month.

“The CJN on his part takes home N400, 000 plus. The salary of a Justice, curiously, drops rather than increases when he gets the added responsibility of being a CJN.

“That the unjust and embarrassing salary difference between the justices and the Chief Registrar still abides remains intriguing to say the least.”

He noted that it was owing to allegations of corruption and perversion of justice that informed President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to order the invasion of homes and arrest of some judges in 2016.

“Not done, in 2019 the government accosted, arrested and arraigned the incumbent Chief Justice before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged underhand conduct.

“With his retirement apparently negotiated, he was eventually left off the hook.

“In 2022, a letter signed by all other justices of the Supreme Court, including the current Chief Justice, the aggrieved protested against the shabby treatment meted to them by the head of court and the Chief Registrar.

“In the event, his lordship Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad disengaged ostensibly on grounds of ill-health.

“My lords, distinguished invitees, ladies and gentlemen, it is obvious that the judiciary I am exiting from is far from the one I voluntarily joined and desired to serve and be identified with. The institution has become something else,” Justice Muhammad lamented.

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