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The Supreme Court must put its house in order

Once again, Nigeria’s apex court is in the news but for the wrong reason. The recent public spat between the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN),…

Once again, Nigeria’s apex court is in the news but for the wrong reason. The recent public spat between the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, and other justices of the Supreme Court is, at best, a misconduct of the highest order. 

The Supreme Court justices in a recent letter to the CJN, which leaked to the public, accused the CJN of neglecting their welfare in addition to his refusal to carry them along in the management of the court. The justices also complained of the state of the litigations department and the general dilapidated condition of services in the Court.

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In the leaked letter titled “The State of Affairs in the Supreme Court of Nigeria by Justices of the Court”, the justices asked the CJN to act before it’s too late on their challenges of justices’ accommodation, vehicles, electricity tariff, supply of diesel, internet services to our residences and chambers, and epileptic electricity supply to the court. “Your Lordship with all due respect, this is the peak of the degeneration of the court; it is the height of decadence, and clear evidence of the absence of probity and moral rectitude,” they wrote. The 14 aggrieved justices further said CJN’s inactions portend imminent danger to the survival of the apex court and the judiciary as an institution.

The justices in their leaked letter also complained that the CJN refused to formally introduce the six new justices of the court appointed on November 6, 2020 as required by convention until he was pressured into holding the meeting in March, this year. The CJN is also accused of getting involved in procurement functions, which is the schedule of the chief registrar. This reportedly prompted many of the justices to complain to their senior retired colleagues, including a serving emir in one of the North Central states whose consequent visit to the court, they said failed to resolve the rift.

In a swift response to the leadership allegations, which the other justices of the Supreme Court described as “Absence of probity and moral rectitude”, Justice Muhammad, through a statement signed by his spokesman, Isah Ahuraka, denied the allegations; saying “Judges in all climes are to be seen and not heard.” Ahuraka explained that the CJN refrained from joining issues with the purported letter which went viral; adding that the action of the 14 justices “was akin to dancing naked at the market square”.

Justice Muhammad, who will bow out on December 31, 2023, after clocking the mandatory age of 70 years, said despite the financial difficulty in the court, his administration has made efforts to recruit legal assistants for the justices and other logistical support to which they are entitled. Clarifying the allegations, he said that eight Supreme Court Justices were recently nominated for a workshop in London as taking all of them there at once would make their job to suffer. He also said while accommodations are being gradually provided for the few that are yet to get, he affirmed that there is none of the apex court justices without SUV and backup cars. Reacting to issues of power supply, the CJN said the high cost of electricity tariff and diesel is a national problem. He argued that diesel which was budgeted at N300/liter now sells for over N700/liter.

For a crisis brewing between the CJN and his colleagues to boil over into the open and become public knowledge is not only a shame to the entire judiciary of the country but also a disgrace to Nigeria.

The current watershed at the nation’s apex court goes to confirm that the general arbiter who, for decades remained the last hope of ordinary Nigerians, has turned against itself. If anything, it seeks to erode public confidence in this all-important arm of government; the judiciary. In other climes where conscience matters, the CJN would have resigned from office, especially since his colleagues appear to have lost confidence in him.

The letter containing the allegations, it must be noted, was signed by 14 of the 15 justices of the Supreme Court against the CJN and, therefore, cannot be wished away or easily swept under the carpet. It simply suggests that the CJN has failed to carry his colleagues along. It’s a case of all the justices against the CJN. It is discernable from the accusations leveled against CJN Muhammad and the latter’s responses that all has not been well with the apex court. Daily Trust, therefore, strongly calls on the Senate to expedite its investigation into the issue just as it urges  the president to constitute a panel made of retired SC justices to carry out thorough investigation into the allegations brought against CJN Muhammad. If he is eventually found guilty, due process should be followed in the application of appropriate sanctions.

In the past one decade, the country’s judiciary has seldom been in the news for any good reasons.  Judges of the apex and appellant courts have, more often than not, been accused of either misconduct, corruption or delivering conflicting judgments. It’s a tragedy that very senior members of the bench at the highest level have refused to learn from the failures of their predecessors some of whom were humiliated out of office. For instance, the immediate past CJN Walter Onnoghen whom CJN Muhammad succeeded, was suspended in 2019 by President Muhammad Buhari, on the orders of the Code of Conduct Tribunal over false assets declaration charges.

To restore the almost-lost public confidence, the judiciary especially judges at all levels of the system, must put their act together and redeem the dented image of this structure of government. The judiciary should look inward and provide the moral rectitude for the other two arms of government, the executive and the legislature. It is time for Nigerian judges to be exemplary in character to command moral authority over citizens.

 

 

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