Nigeria gets new chief justice amid ‘always’ low judicial confidence

by Barbara R. Abercrombie
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The new acting chief justice was a signatory to a rare complaint by Supreme Court justices against his predecessor.

Abuja, Nigeria – Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has sworn in a new acting Chief Justice just hours after the previous one stepped down.

During a swearing-in ceremony in the capital on Monday, Judge Olukayode Ariwoola took the oath of office to replace Tanko Muhammad, who resigned earlier due to health reasons.

Speaking at the ceremony, Buhari said he had received the resignation of Judge Tanko Muhammad as the country’s chief bailiff and that he was “forced to accept his retirement, albeit with mixed feelings”.

According to the president, the former chief justice would retire from the Supreme Court on the last day of 2023, but “unfortunately, as no one is infallible, ill health has cut short the leadership of Chief Justice Tanko of the Nigerian judiciary at this time. †

“As much as one would like the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammad Tanko, to be able to fulfill his term of office fully, it presupposes that he can perform the functions of the office without any hindrance or any kind of disability,” Buhari added. To. †

Mohammed’s resignation came just a week after 14 of the 16 Supreme Court justices, including Ariwoola, complained about Mohammed’s leadership in a leaked memo, saying he had failed to address his colleagues’ welfare concerns.

Until his swearing-in, Ariwoola was the second-highest judge of the Supreme Court. He was elevated to the appeals court after serving on the supreme court of the southwestern state of Oyo. According to the Supreme Court website, before his appointment to the apex court in 2011, he had served on the appeals court six years earlier.

According to court records, he was also a member of the electoral tribunals in Zamfara and Enugu states in 1999 and at various times in electoral courts in five different cities.

chief justice

‘A historic low’

Ariwoola, 63, will manage a Nigerian justice system that is increasingly seen as corrupt. Mohammed’s rise to chief justice came after his predecessor Walter Onnoghen was controversially suspended just weeks before an election in which the judiciary usually plays a major role. The suspension was criticized at the time by local and international observers.

“There is an almost universal agreement that public confidence in the judiciary and even the legal profession is at an all-time low,” Olumide Akpata, president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said in a statement Monday.

“Now more than ever, there is a need for urgent reforms in the judiciary and to rebuild the almost lost confidence that Nigerians have in the judiciary and the wider legal profession in Nigeria,” Akpata said. “These should be the immediate first duties for the Honorable Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, who is now expected to take over as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.”

An NBA member from Abuja, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to do so, said there are concerns within the law firm about the timing of Mohammed’s resignation pending an ongoing investigation into the complaints against him.

The move seemed “irresistibly linked to the charges leveled against him by his brother-judges,” he said. “I mean,He been this healthy in a long time. We believe that an investigation would have revealed many new issues that would have embarrassed the CJN, forcing him to resign to save himself the trouble.”

After being sworn in, Ariwoola said he would “abide, observe and preserve the Constitution of Nigeria…with the cooperation of my brother Supreme Court justices.”

“We will not disappoint Nigeria,” he added.

He said the issues raised in the leaked memo, which he was a signatory, are being resolved by the highest court.

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