The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has called for “urgent reforms” and cleansing of the Augean Stable in the aftermath of the resignation of Tanko Muhammad as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) on Monday.
The news of the abrupt resignation of Mr Muhammad, 68, broke on Monday.
PREMIUM TIMES reported earlier that Mr Muhammad resigned on health grounds. The resignation came 18 months before he is due for retirement when he clocks 70 on December 31, 2023.
Olukayode Ariwoola, who is the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, is expected to be sworn in by President Muhammadu Buhari as acting CJN on Monday.
Reacting to the development in a statement on Monday, NBA President, Olumide Akpata, commended Mr Muhammad for his “lengthy service to the nation, and wish him quick recovery even as we pray for a well-deserved peaceful retirement.”
Mr Akpata, however, added that the CJN’s resignation could not be divorced from the raging crisis in the Supreme Court with the 14 other Justices of the court accusing him of poor handling of the affairs of the court.
“I must do so again today as he bows out. It is however impossible, to consider His Lordship’s retirement in isolation of the recent unprecedented developments at the Supreme Court where 14 justices of the Court censured the outgone Chief Justice of Nigeria over His Lordship‘s handling of their welfare and related issues.
“Beyond this, there is near-universal agreement that public confidence in the Judiciary and indeed the legal profession is at an all-time low,” the statement stated.
The NBA president acknowledged the confident crisis that the Supreme Court and the Nigerian judiciary are currently plagued with.
“Beyond this, there is near-universal agreement that public confidence in the Judiciary and indeed the legal profession is at an all-time low,” Mr Akpata stated.
Welcoming Mr Ariwoola as the next CJN, the NBA said his first tasks should include taking steps aimed at “urgent reforms in the Judiciary” and rebuilding “the almost dissipated confidence that Nigerians have in the Judiciary and the wider legal profession in Nigeria.”
He also pledged NBA’s “readiness to work together with His Lordship (Mr Ariwoola) and the judiciary in cleansing the Augean Stable and addressing the ills that have continued to plague not just the Judiciary but the entire legal profession.”
Supreme Court crisis
PREMIUM TIMES reported how 14 Justices of the Supreme Court sent a protest letter to Mr Muhammad chronicling the operational challenges that have almost crippled the efficient adjudication of cases at the court was the first of its kind in the 58-year history of the court.
The authors of the petition decried the bad conditions of vehicles, electricity supply, accommodations, non-payment of allowances and dearth of supporting staff among others.
They stated in the copy of the letter seen by PREMIUM TIMES that the protest became necessary following the refusal of the CJN to address the issues despite drawing his attention to them.
The aggrieved judges led by the second most senior judge of the Supreme Court, Olukayode Ariwoola, listed the issues to include — vehicles, electricity tariff, supply of diesel, Internet services to (Justices’) residences and chambers, and epileptic electricity supply to the court.
Confirming receiving the letter on June 21, the CJN lamented the leakage of the document to the public, noting that “Judges in all climes are to be seen and not heard”. Doing otherwise, he said, amounts “to dancing naked at the market square by us with the ripple effect of the said letter.”
The CJN denied any wrongdoing and did everything possible to meet the needs of the justices and the court as much as possible.
He noted that his colleagues’ accusations would amount to “utopian” if all the problems were expected to be tackled given the prevailing economic difficulties being faced in the country.
He, however, went on to the wide-ranging issues raised by his colleagues which he largely attributed to the “economic and socio-political climate prevailing in the country.”
READ NBA’S FULL STATEMENT:
RESIGNATION OF CHIEF JUSTICE OF NIGERIA AND APPOINTMENT OF AN ACTING CHIEF JUSTICE
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has received the news of the resignation, on grounds of ill health, of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Dr. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR.
We thank His Lordship for his lengthy service to the nation, and wish him quick recovery even as we pray for a well-deserved peaceful retirement. In the course of previous publications and communications, I have consistently appreciated the outgone Chief Justice of Nigeria for the cordial working relationship between the Bar and the Bench under our respective administrations. I must do so again today as he bows out. It is however impossible, to consider His Lordship’s retirement in isolation of the recent unprecedented developments at the Supreme Court where 14 justices of the Court censured the outgone Chief Justice of Nigeria over His Lordship‘s handling of their welfare and related issues.
Beyond this, there is near universal agreement that public confidence in the Judiciary and indeed the legal profession is at an all-time low.
There is now more than ever the need for urgent reforms in the Judiciary and to rebuild the almost dissipated confidence that Nigerians have in the Judiciary and the wider legal profession in Nigeria.
These should form the immediate first tasks for Honourable Mr. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, who is expected to now take over as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
The NBA welcomes the appointment of Honourable Mr. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola and pledges its readiness to work together with His Lordship and the Judiciary in cleansing the Augean Stable and addressing the ills that have continued to plague not just the Judiciary but the entire legal profession.
President Nigerian Bar Association
27 June 2022
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