Tanko Muhammad exited on Monday as the 16th head of the Nigerian judiciary since Independence after serving as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) for about two and a half years. He was immediately succeeded by Olukayode Ariwoola who hails from Oyo State.
Mr Muhammad, officially due for retirement when he clocks 70 in December 2023, abruptly left office 18 months ahead of time on Monday, citing health grounds.
In line with the norm, Mr Muhammad’s resignation paved the way for Mr Ariwoola, the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, to be sworn in by President Muhammadu Buhari as the acting CJN.
Mr Ariwoola is expected to remain as the acting CJN pending when the process of his appointment in substantive capacity will be concluded.
Nigeria’s chief justice, being the head of various key judiciary institutions and with power to make key appointments into the bodies, has an overbearing influence on the Nigerian judiciary.
Therefore, the personality of the CJN generally determines the direction the Nigerian judiciary faces during his or time in office.
There have been controversies about his age with his Wikipedia page indicating his year of birth as 1958 as against what is contained in his official records.
Below are seven major points, including his date of birth, that you need to know about the new CJN:
1. 17th chief justice since Nigeria’s independence
Since when the northern and southern protectorates were amalgamated into the entity Nigeria, 22 judges, including the newly appointed acting CJN, Mr Ariwoola, have presided over the affairs of the Nigerian judiciary.
Five of the 22 chief justices presided over Nigeria’s judiciary under the colonial rule up till when the first indigenous chief justice, then referred to as the Chief Justice of the Federation, Adetokunbo Ademola, was appointed in 1958.
In 1963, three years after Nigeria gained independence from the British colonial rule in 1960, Nigeria became a republic and the Nigerian Supreme Court was proclaimed.
The appeals to the British Federal Committee of the Privy Council stopped and the Supreme Court became the highest court in Nigeria.
Since the appointment of the late Mr Ademola as chief justice in 1958 up till Sunday, a total of 16 other chief justices have presided over the Nigerian Supreme Court and by extension the Nigerian judiciary.
Mr Ariwoola became the 17th chief justice on Monday.
Referring to Mr Ariwola as Nigeria’s 17th indigenous chief justice would imply counting a long-time Caribbean resident in Nigeria, Darnley Alexander, who was appointed in 1975 as a Nigerian.
Mr Alexander, who was then serving as the chief justice of the South Eastern State (now Cross River State), was appointed by the Murtala Muhammed military regime to replace Taslim Elias who was controversially removed from office. But excluding the late Mr Alexander from the list of former Nigerian indigenous chief justices, then Mr Ariwoola will be the 16th on the roll call.
The new chief justice, a Muslim from Iseyin in Oyo State, is the seventh person from the southern part of the country to hold the office since Independence, while the nine others were from northern Nigeria.
2. To serve two years in office
Mr Ariwoola, its curriculum vitae obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, was born on August 22, 1954. This means he will clock 68 on August 22.
If eventually confirmed as the next substantive CJN, Mr Ariwoola will hold office for about two years and two months which will end on August 22, 2024, the day he is expected to clock the mandatory retirement age of 70.
3. Education and legal training
According to his profile published on the Supreme Court’s website, Mr Ariwoola started his primary education in Local Authority Demonstration School, Oluwole in Iseyin in 1959. He graduated from the school in 1966.
He attended Muslim Modern School in the same town from 1967 to 1969 and then proceeded to Ansar-Ud-Deen High School Saki, Oyo State, in 1970. He completed his High School at the Ansar-Ud-Deen High School, Saki, in 1974.
He was admitted into the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife) to study Law in 1977.
He graduated from the university with a Bachelor’s degree in Law (LLB) in 1980.
He was called to the Nigerian bar and got enrolled as a solicitor and advocate of the Nigerian Supreme Court in July 1981.
4. Teacher turned judge
Before his training as a lawyer Mr Ariwoola taught at Ansar-ud Deen Society Primary School, Atori, Iseyin in 1974.
After he was qualified as a lawyer and was practising in private law firms, Mr Ariwoola took up a part time teach at Civil Service Training School (now Simeon Adebo) Secretariat, Ibadan, Oyo State, in 1988.#
He also did part-time teaching at Extra Moral (Advance Level) Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Ibadan, between 1984 and 1988.
He similarly did part-time teaching at the Post Graduate Diploma in Public Administration, the Polytechnic Ibadan, between 1989 and 1992.
5. 40 years of legal career, 30 years on the bench
Altogether, Mr Ariwoola has put about 40 years into his legal career which started with serving as a state counsel during his national youth service at the Ondo State Ministry of Justice, Akure, between 1981 and 1982.
He later served as a legal officer at the Oyo State Ministry of Justice between 1982 and 1988.
From October 1988 and August 1988, the new chief justice worked in a private law firm, Chief Ladosu Ladipo, SAN & Co. Legal Practitioners, as counsel-in-chambers.
He later served as the principal partner of Olu Ariwoola & Co Mako Allah Champers in Iseyin from 1989 to 1992.
Mr Ariwoola continued his legal profession on the bench when he was appointed a judge of the Oyo State High Court in 1992.
After three years on the High Court bench, he was elevated to the Court of Appeal in 1995.
He was on the Court of Appeal bench until he was elevated to the Supreme Court in 2011. He is currently the longest serving Justice of the Supreme Court having spent a total of 11 years on the court’s bench.
This marks the 30th year of his judicial career that started with his appointment as a High Court judge in 1992.
6. Protest letter
Mr Ariwoola, topped the list of the 14 Justices of the Supreme Court that recently sent a memo the outgone CJN to protest against the poor handling of their welfare and the operations of the court. The ripples created by the leaked memo had yet to die down when Mr Muhammad resigned on Monday.
Mr Muhammad’s resignation came days after denying the allegations levelled against him by his colleagues. But the issues had not been resolved before his exit on Monday.
7. Notable decisions
Mr Ariwoola was part of the seven-man panel of the Supreme Court led by now retired Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, that gave judicial backing to the virtual court hearing on July 14, 2020.
He was also on the seven-judge bench led by his predecessor, Tanko Muhammad, that affirmed President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in the 2019 general elections.
The panel, in its decision delivered on October 30, 2019, dismissed the suit of the then and now presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar, challenging Mr Buhari’s victory in the February 23, 2019 presidential election.
He was also part of the Mr Muhammad-led seven-man panel that that the delivered the controversial judgement of the Supreme Court that sacked Emeka Ihedioha of the PDP as Imo State governor and replaced him with Hope Uzodinma of All Progressives Congress (APC) on January 14, 2020.
The same panel of which Mr Ariwoola was a part, delivered the Supreme Court’s judgement on January 20, 2020 affirming the victories of Governors Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, and Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State in the 2019 governorship elections.
Again on March 3, 2020, Mr Ariwoola delivered the lead majority decision of the six of the seven judges on the court’s panel, that dismissed Mr Ihedioha’s request for a review of the earlier verdict.
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