SAN FRANCISCO, September 21, (THEWILL) – Concerns have been raised by stakeholders over the inadequate number of supreme court justices. According to them, President Muhammadu Bubari’s failure to act on the National Judicial Council’s (NJCs) recommendation to appoint eight Supreme Court justices has thrown up a constitutional challenge.
Section 230 (1) of the Constitution recommended 21 justices for the Supreme Court but it currently has 12.
Between October 2019 and August 2020, the NJC recommended eight Court of Appeal justices for elevation to the Supreme Court, but the President had not sent their names to the Senate for confirmation.
The latest of such recommendations was on August 14, when the NJC elevated Mohammed L. Garba (Northwest); Tijjani Abubakar (Northeast); Abdu Aboki (Northwest); and Mohammed M. Saulawa (Northwest), to the Supreme Court.
On October 23, 2019, four justices of the Court of Appeal, Adamu Jauro (Northeast); Emmanuel A. Agim (Southsouth); C. Oseji (Southsouth); and Helen M. Ogunwumiju (Southwest); were recommended by NJC to the President:.
Stakeholders are worried that President Buhari is not acting in concert with his aspiration for the Judiciary. They noted the President had, while addressing the Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said he would ensure prompt justice delivery, particularly in criminal cases. They however wondered why the President would tarry on the recommendations for appointments to the Supreme Court.
The President, in June 2019, through his spokesman, Garba Shehu, wrote the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad on the need to appoint more Justices to the Supreme Court.
“‘Pursuant to Section 230 (2) A&B of the Constitution 1999 (as amended), I request that you initiate the process of appointing five Justices of the Supreme Court to make 21 Justices as provided by the Constitution. ‘This is in line with the government’s agenda of repositioning the Judiciary and Supreme Court for greater efficiency, with a view to reducing the backlog of appeals pending at the Supreme Court,” Buhari said.
However, he has not matched his words with actions, thus raising concern among judicial stakeholders that the judiciary may be heading toward constitutional crisis.
Justice Muhammad has lamented the challenge posed by the dwindling number of justices at the court. At a valedictory session for Justice Amiru Sanusi, the CJN raised the alarm that the rank of justices at the court was depleting without replacement.
“You will recall that barely seven weeks ago, Thursday, December 12, 2019, we assembled here to honour our brother, Justice Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs… in a similar valedictory session. That ceremony painfully occasioned the depleting of our ranks at the Supreme Court. In a similar fashion, this session, too, is billed to further drastically reduce the number of Supreme Court justices as low as 13. This is not cheering news in view of the ever increasing number of appeals that flood the court daily.
“The litigious nature of Nigerians gives no space for the justices to rest their nerves. We are inundated and suffocated with cases of different types that we can hardly have time for ourselves and families”, the CJN said.
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