CSOS and Campainers Raise Alarm On Grave Harm Being Inflicted On Nigeria’s Judiciary By Mounting Allegations of Poor Leadership And Dishonourable Practices By Nigeria’s CJN

Civil Society Organizations and campaigners have raised an alert over the state of Nigeria’s Judiciary under the leadership of Hon. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola GCON, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (“CJN”) and the increasing damage which the continuing missteps, alleged misuse of authority and a general failure to undertake effective reform, is doing to the Judiciary.

In a joint letter, dated the 28th March, 2024 and addressed to the CJN, the CSOs said that against the background of the decline the Judiciary suffered prior to the CJN’s appointment, it was expected that [he] the CJN, would, upon his appointment, be “acutely conscious of the extreme urgency of reforming the judiciary and its administration, arresting its downward spiral in public trust, and reinforcing its capacity to promote and protect the rule of law”. However, the groups noted, “the Judiciary remains unreconstructed and its public perception has not improved since then.” On the contrary, they said: “we are very concerned that it [the Judiciary] has steadily grown worse since Your Lordship assumed its leadership”. Furthermore, the group lamented that the CJN’s “personal actions – quite apart from the dysfunctionalities of the justice system – are harming the already fragile and enfeebled Judiciary, and whatever is left of its credibility”.

The groups and campaigners note that some areas where the CJN’s leadership had worsened the situation and caused the Judiciary more reputational harm include the following:

  • Reabsorption of dismissed/compulsorily retired Judges

The reinstatement of 2 Judges (Justice Gladys Olotu and Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia) removed for serious misconduct and reabsorbed by the NJC under the incumbent CJN, without credible efforts to avoid doing so, in view of the embarrassment which their re-absorption could cause the Judiciary. Counting the options available to the NJC, this demonstrates the Council’s lack of commitment to the reputation of the Judiciary and its ineffectiveness as an oversight body and sends the wrong message to other Judges.

 

  • Turning a Blind Eye to Issues of Judicial Integrity

The organizations note that the CJN’s unresponsiveness to allegations bordering on judicial integrity and unethical conduct erodes public confidence in the judicial system. For instance, before recent appointments of Justices into the Supreme Court, Access to Justice, twice petitioned the CJN as Chairman of the NJC to investigate allegations made against one of the nominated Justices -Hon. Justice Chidiebere Uwa – following unresolved accusations of corruption and alleged violations of the Judicial Code of Conduct against her as a Judge of Abia State. None of the two letters, were even acknowledged. Similarly, a letter written to the NJC to investigate allegations made by Hon. Justice Dattijo Muhammed concerning whether delays in filling Supreme Court vacancies was deliberate or not was not acknowledged or acted upon by the NJC.

 

  • Allegations of Nepotism and Illicit Influence Peddling

The groups also observe that mounting allegations of nepotism, and undue influence in judicial appointments against the CJN have fueled public cynicism of the integrity of the judicial appointment process and worsened public distrust in the judiciary. They note that there have been many (undenied) reports claiming the CJN could have improperly used his influence as CJN to promote appointments of family members into judicial and administrative positions in the Judiciary, citing appointments of his son, Hon. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola Jr (appointed Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (“FCT”) High Court); his nephew (Hon. Justice Lateef Ganiyu) appointed Justice of the Court of Appeal and his younger brother, Mr. Adebayo Ariwoola as Auditor of the NJC. They also include allegations that the CJN was making efforts to also appoint his daughter-in-law as a Judge of the FCT High Court, even contrary to established guidelines and norms.

 

  • Manipulating Timing of Appointments of Supreme Court Justices

The groups also note the allegations made by retiring Justice Dattijo Muhammed at his valedictory ceremony where he claimed that the CJN delayed appointing Supreme Court Justices deliberately, while the Supreme Court was “suffocating under the pressure of acutely-reduced bench numbers”, implying that the CJN was, for whatever motive, and even despite the overbearing docket of the court, instrumentalizing the court’s numerical status quo and handicaps as a way to achieve some ulterior purposes.

These allegations, the CSOs and campaigners say, have had a profound negative impact on public perception of Nigeria’s Judiciary, both domestically and internationally. They maintain that Nigeria’s judiciary, which was once revered, has now “lost direction” and faces widespread distrust, disparagement and even name-calling, which all now threaten the Judiciary’s legitimacy. They also note that notwithstanding the damning nature of public assessments and characterizations of the Judiciary, the leadership of Nigeria’s Judiciary appears unruffled by them, and note that the reputational harm is affecting and stigmatizing many conscientious Judges/Justices who serve honourably, and do not deserve the unfair tarring of the entire institution by the same brush. No respectable Judiciary, the groups maintain, “should afford to remain indifferent to the forms of public malignment and ridicule against it as we have witnessed in Nigeria”. The groups remark that the CJN’s “actions have, plunged the Judiciary’s image further down the barrel. Noting further that the office of CJN is a public trust, the groups argue that the CJN must not abuse that trust by privileging the interests of his family members over the interests of the judicial institution.

Concluding, the groups argue that the CJN must take urgent actions to pull the Judiciary from the brink of total perdition, and “overhaul the entire judicial system. Declaring a state of emergency in the Judiciary would be a good start. Ensuring that judicial selection decisions are transparently and verifiably merit-based, is a pressing need at this time”.

 

Access to Justice                                             Joseph Otteh

Chairman, Human & Constitutional                 Sonnie Ekwowusi Esq

Rights Committee, African Bar Association

Fight Against Corruption in the Judiciary         Bayo Akinlade

FundELG Africa.                                              Dominic E. Obozuwa

Open Justice Alliance                                      Prof. Chidi Anslem Odinkalu

.           Rule of Law and Accountability                      Okechukwu Nwanguma,

Advocacy Centre- RULAAC

Sterling Law Centre                                          Adedeji Ajare

 


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