Why only judges, not lawyers, should be appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria – outgoing CJN

Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed; Photo: Mahmud Mohammed
Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed; Photo: Mahmud Mohammed

The outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, has warned against politicizing the appointment of the nation’s Chief Justice.

Speaking at the swearing-in of 22 New Senior Advocates of Nigeria in Abuja, Mr. Mohammed, whose tenure elapses in November, said it was important to address speculations surrounding appointments into the office in recent times.

“Given that this is my last legal year speech, I must use this medium to address speculations that have arisen as regards the appointments to the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“Permit me to restate that Section 231 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) is clear as to the procedure that must be followed in appointing a Justice of the Supreme Court, or indeed a substantive chief justice of Nigeria. The National Judicial Council recommends, the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria approves, and the Senate confirms such appointment.

“While I would admit that there is no constitutional restriction as to where those to be appointed are selected from; the long-held practice, which I dare say has been apolitical, transparent and fair, has been to appoint the most senior justice of the Supreme Court to the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“With the exception of two chief justices who were appointed from outside the Supreme Court during the military regimes and in exceptional circumstances, this system has proven to be seamless, predictable, respectable and dignified,” he said.

Mr. Mohammed said any other method in appointing the CJN would reduce the office to something that can be lobbied for.

“The idea that we can appoint legal practitioner without the proven experience or the temperance of character, developed through years of active participation in adjudication, may indeed be fraught with risk, none greater than the risk of creating another sinecure of party loyalists or reducing the office of the CJN to the office which can be ‘lobbied’ for. This will undoubtedly and irreversibly hurt our justice system,” Mr. Mohammed said.

He lamented what he described as an increased rate of communication of complaints against judicial officers to the Presidency and described the development as disturbing.

“The constitution clearly places powers to exercise disciplinary control over judicial officers in the National Judicial Council. Furthermore, in line with the provisions of the constitution, the Judicial Discipline Regulation 2014 comprehensively sets out the procedure for making a complaint without undue interference from other arms of government,” he said.

Mr. Mohammed said members of the judiciary engaged in such acts have been marked for action and would be disciplined.

Mr. Mohammed added that out of 1,489 cases heard between 2015 and 2016, 908 were motions while 581 were substantive appeals and 268 judgements were delivered, within one year.

He lamented the practice of delaying cases through the use of unethical and frivolous applications by certain members of the bar. He warned that the apex court was taking a dim view of such delays and will introduce measures aimed at reducing delays in the administration of justice.

Mr. Mohammed warned the new senior advocates and all judicial officers to desist from acts capable of eroding the integrity of the legal profession.

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  • Rommel

    For now,I believe that the next chief justice of the federation should be an outsider and the reason is simple,borrowing from the analogy given by this outgoing chief justice about predictability of succession,this predictability has many pitfalls including corrupting and owning an individual years before the person assumes the office so that the person becomes loyal to his paymasters like witnessed in the cases involving Peter Odili,Godswill Akpaboi and Nyesom Wike, killing people so as to speed up succession for certain individuals and many others so given the uncertainties we have experienced lately,it would be advisable that for now,let us look elsewhere for qualified individuals including outside our jurisdiction to fill in that position until we can be sure that reasonable and patriotic citizens are sitting on that bench.

    • Apocalypse

      Good one there

  • GusO

    Nigeria is a complicated country. If the judiciary had not been corrupted by politicians and the military before them, then the Chief Justice’s admonition of transparency in the selection of the most experienced Justice as the next CJN would be the right thing. But the supreme court is already inundated with corrupt and “owned” judges, Mrs Odili who would not recuse herself from a case involving her husband being an example. It’s tough resolving the issue of a corrupt judiciary that is a stumbling block to the Buhari administration’s plan to eliminate corruption. If the judiciary joined the executive branch in the war against corruption, the resistance to writing new anti corruption laws by the legislature would ultimately fade away as the corrupt legislators will end up in jail and new non corrupt and patriotic legislators take their places.

  • pheliciti

    Seems like the CJN is jumping into the arena. He should know better than offer an opinion on a matter like this, perchance the President decides to use his discretion to choose someone from the bar. What he has attempted is to polarise opinions. There is absolutely nothing wrong in choosing a CJN from outside the ranks of the over pampered judiciary, afterall it is not unprecedented. Murtala Mohammed appointed from the bar and Obj almost followed the example of appointing from the Bar prior to handing over to Shagari.

    And indeed the judiciary needs to crawl into a corner and reflect. Its the single subsisting arm of government that has never been affected by Military rule; the executive and legislature having been suspended from time to time during military rule. Painfully, it fails to show the maturity of an arm of govt that has existed unbroken since the beginning of Nigeria.

  • Omo Akin

    The CJN admitted that two former CJNs were appointed from outside. The fact is that those two former DJNs performed better than all those that got promoted. The reality is that the CJN who also doubles as the head of the NJC has tremendous powers to clean up the mess but those from within have failed woefully to clean up the mess.
    When the CJN admonished that the position of the CJN should not turned into a position to lobby for, he is on a weak ground because all the high court judges lobby to become judges, they lobby to go to the Court of Appeals and lobby to go to the Supreme Court. At least since 1999, there is no judge who had got there without lobbying.

  • Fosai

    Question Arising

    How come that the putatively illiterate
    far north of Nigeria has dominated the Supreme Court for 39 years since
    independence when the Yoruba, for example, had produced the first lawyer in the
    country one century before?

    • Mufu Ola

      Illiterate? You are still living in the make believe era? Better wake up quick.Funnily most people who claim far north are illiterates are hardly properly educated themselves.Many are drop outs somewhere along the line.

    • paul irumundomon

      Bribes and their claim to Nigeria as their property. What was this cjn experience, he has crossed the bridge and want a new law, to deprive others, what he enjoyed. The next cjn will still come from the north, maybe from buhari brother inlaw.

  • eesoooesquire

    EDITOR SIR,

    The outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, provided no discernible leadership
    for the Supreme Court for history to remember. He came into the job with typical civil service reflex
    and did routine duty of a court rather than steer the court on a changed course from a staid thing

    into a force for good. Today, no treasury thief is in jail, despite that Nigeria is reputed as a heinously
    corrupt country. In other words, this would have been the same situation if there is no court of law.

    • Es3

      It appears you think the Chief Justice would have jailed people extra-judicially to placate you when no competent court of law has so pronounced, nor should he/they (judiciary) follow any law and procedure on ground to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt for justice to be seen to have been done (satisfied) ???!

      I can see the very reason why the out-going CJN needed to say this, cos people like you and this APC government would not mind destroying our fledgling democracy to satisfy their lust for arbitrary power!!!

      • gabin

        His postulation is very timely, I wouldn’t be surprised if APC government appoints one retired perm. Sec from Duara as the new CJN.

        • Es3

          My brother with they have done so far, personally I can’t put that beyond them!!!

          They are good in doing the unthinkable that would destroy Nigeria and Nigerians as long as long it suits their brainless maniacal greed!