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Ignore ‘order’ to appoint more Supreme Court justices, group warns CJN


Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad

A human rights group, Access to Justice, has warned the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Mohammed, against taking ‘orders from the Presidency’ in appointing more justices for the Supreme Court following a report (not in The Guardian) that President Muhammadu Buhari had asked him to initiate the process of appointing five new justices for the apex court.

The group said that the Constitution and Nigerians expect the judiciary to exercise full autonomy over matters relating to the appointment, discipline and removal of judges without interference from other branches of government, just as the judiciary does not interfere in appointments made by other arms of government.

In a statement yesterday signed by its Convener, Mr. Joseph Otteh, the group said that “filling court vacancies at the prompting and instance of the Executive arm of government will not help the cause of the judiciary at this moment in time.”

“The judiciary has not told the Presidency when to appoint cabinet ministers since May 29, 2019 when this administration began another term. The judiciary ought to march to the beat of its own drum not another’s. The move to fill-up all vacant Supreme Court positions following the President’s advice or direction unfortunately casts the judiciary as an institution that lacks real substance in the concept of its independence; as a lackey arm, subordinate to the direction of the Executive branch.

“Given the Presidency’s role in the sobering events leading to the removal of the past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen (rtd) and the instatement of a new (acting) one, the Nigerian judiciary ought to maintain considerable distance from other branches of government as part of its efforts at rebuilding its public image that has for a long while now remained below par.”

The group alleged that the acting CJN appears to have accepted the invitation two days after the President’s request was published, saying that the CJN had reportedly asked Supreme Court justices to nominate “suitable candidates for consideration for appointment as justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”

He further stated: “The Supreme Court has not had a full Bench of 21 justices since the transition to civil rule in 1999 in spite of calls for it to do so. Why does it have to be a presidential ‘request’ that should trigger the judiciary into filling long-standing vacancies at the Supreme Court? There are notable concerns flowing from the judiciary’s response to the Presidency’s request.

“The judiciary gives the impression, inferably, that it has no mind of its own, and cannot control its own business or judge what is in its own best interest. Nigeria’s judicial branch is created as an independent arm of government with powers and responsibility over the affairs of the judiciary.”

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