Respond to issues raised by Hon. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad – Access to Justice tells CJN
A group under the aegis, Access to Justice has queried why the vacant positions at the supreme court are yet to be filled.
In a statement made available to BarristerNG the Convener, Access to Justice, Joseph Otteh praised Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad for his courage in speaking truth to Power.
The statement titled Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad’s Questions Are Pertinent, Soul-Searching and Deserve Answers: What Held Up the Filling of Supreme Court Vacancies? reads in part “Speaking at his valedictory, Hon. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammed (rtd) asked, among other questions: why have longstanding vacancies at the Supreme Court not been filled till this time. That question – and indeed all the posers he raised – are very pertinent questions of public interest and deserve to be adequately answered.
“To be clear, there were 14 Justices on the roll of the Supreme Court in June 2022, when the current Chief Justice of Nigeria Hon. Justice O. Ariwoola (GCON) was appointed. By the time the CJN was confirmed in September 2023, the number had decreased to 13 with the retirement of Hon. Justice Aboki. Meanwhile, even before the CJN came into office, his predecessor had begun a process to appoint more Justices into the Supreme Court, and as at January 2022, published notices requesting expressions of interest in Supreme Court vacancies, with the process progressing enough to the extent that the Nigerian Bar Association said a short-list drawn had been drawn up but had excluded members of the Bar. As far as is known, no explanation has been offered as to why the recruitment process started in early 2022, and expected to lead to the appointment of more Supreme Court Justices, was aborted.
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“In June 2023, one year after his appointment as CJN, another call for expression of interest was opened for the appointment of 10 Justices of the Supreme Court, with no reference made to the outcome of the process begun in 2022. 5 months after this process began, no fresh Supreme Court appointments have been made in spite of the urgency and direness of the personnel situation at the Supreme Court.
“In his address at the valedictory session, the CJN said the Supreme Court was now reduced to 10 Justices which, he said, was unprecedented in recent history, promising that new appointments were underway. This observation hardly offers anything by way of comfort. The Judiciary exercises complete control over, and independently manages processes leading up to appointments of Supreme Court Justices, up till the time the President is called upon to make a formal appointment. It is not the case that the President has refused to act on any recommendations made to him for appointment, in the way ex-President Muhammadu Buhari did in 2018/9. So why, for nearly two years after the Judiciary initiated processes to recruit additional Supreme Court Judges, have the Justices not been appointed? Why did the process stall, and not returned an outcome? As Justice Dattijo Muhammad said: “it is not in doubt that there has been sufficient time for suitable replacements to have been appointed.”
“Justice Dattijo Mohammad also made a more troubling claim about the delays in filling the SC vacancies, saying: “it is evident that the decision not to fill the vacancies in the court is deliberate”. The allegations are heavy in both substance and effect, and have very far-reaching implications for the integrity of Nigeria’s judicial institutions, particularly the Supreme Court and its leadership, and the Judiciary can ill-afford to sweep it under the rug. When considered against the backdrop of other comments Justice Dattijo Muhammad made regarding the SC presidential election appeals panel, it appears he is suggesting that the delay in refilling Supreme Court vacancies was both pre-meditated and politically-motivated. The question is: was it? And the question needs to be answered with utmost forthrightness to prevent further catastrophic damage to the Judiciary’s perception, not only nationally, but internationally.
“In many places, the Judiciary will feel extremely uncomfortable and stigmatized by allegations of this nature, or even milder ones, but the Chief Justice of Nigeria has remarkably, chosen to remain silent. Silence, in the circumstances, cannot represent an appropriate or dignified response. The Nigerian public, and justice system stakeholders deserve to receive forthright responses, and indeed, rebuttal of the claims; otherwise, they could assume the allegations to be true.
Access to Justice therefore;
1. Calls on the National Judicial Council to constitute a high-level inquiry to undertake a thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of the claims made by Hon. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad (rtd); to establish the cause of the delays in the appointment of Supreme Court Justices, and determine whether the delays were politically-motivated;
- Calls on the Chief Justice of Nigeria to respond to the issues raised by Hon. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad in the interest of the integrity of the judicial branch of government. The integrity of the Nigerian Judiciary, as many believe, is hanging on a thread at this time, and will be further badly eroded by allegations like those made by Hon. Justice Dattijo Mohammad.
- Calls on the Nigerian Bar Association to demand that the Judiciary undertakes an urgent inquiry into Justice Dattijo Muhammad’s claims, which inquiry must include representatives of the Bar; and to do everything necessary to ensure the inquiry is established and competently conducted.
Finally, Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad deserves praise for speaking with courage and conviction as he did, raising not only issues related to the Constitution’s over-concentration of power in the hands of a single office holder – the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) – but also of the negatively-altered climate of public trust in which the Nigerian Judiciary now functions. These are very fundamental and appropriate questions to flag at this time, and it is unfortunate that the Judiciary has hardly shown ostensible interest in addressing them, or taken action to plug the staggering public concerns of its integrity, independence and accountability over the course of many years now.