Just 24 hours after the Supreme Court ruling, one of the judges of the Supreme Court who declined to serve on the Presidential Appeal Committee of the court on the grounds of him being about to retire from the Supreme Court has made a not pleasant toast to the judiciary and particularly to the indictment of the CJN!

A retiring Supreme Court Justice, Musa Dattijo Muhammad, has accused the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, of abusing the powers of his office. Though he was silent on his appraisal of the ruling of the court. A session of the public however felt it was too early in the day for such to be unconnected to the ruling.

Justice Muhammad, who bowed out of the apex court bench on Friday after 47 years in active judicial service, made the allegation in a valedictory session organised in his honour!

He said that the judiciary, as presently structured, gave so much power to the CJN, who he said usually makes decisions without consulting other justices.

“As presently structured, the CJN is Chairman of the NJC, which oversees both the appointment and discipline of judges, he is equally Chair of the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), the National Judicial Institute (NJI), the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) that appoints Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

“In my considered opinion, the oversight functions of these bodies should not rest on an individual alone. A person with absolute powers, it is said, corrupts easily and absolutely.”

Justice Muhammad also alleged that the refusal to fill the vacant slot of South East on the apex court bench was deliberate, blaming it on “absolute powers vested in the office of the CJN.”

He said that with his retirement, the North Central zone, which he represented, would no longer have a Justice on the Supreme Court bench!

“My lord Hon. Justice Ejembi Eko JSC, who also represented the zone, retired on 23rd of May, 2022. It has been a year and five months now. There has not been any replacement!

“With the passing of my lord, Hon. Justice Chima Centus Nweze, JSC on 29th July 2023, the South East no longer has any presence at the Supreme Court. My lord, Hon. Justice Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta JSV died on 7th March 2021. There has not been any appointment in his stead for the South East!

“As it stands, only four geo-political regions- the South-West, South-South, North-West and North-East are represented in the Supreme Court!

“While the South-South and North-East have two serving justices, the North-West and South-West are fully represented with three each.

“Appropriate steps could have been taken since to fill outstanding vacancies in the apex court. Why have these steps not been timeously taken?

“It is evident that the decision not to fill the vacancies in the court is deliberate!

It is all about the absolute powers vested in the office of the CJN and the responsible exercise of same.”

Justice Muhammad also lamented the poor funding and welfare of judges, saying that the budgetary allocation for the Judiciary increased from 70 billion in 2015 to 165 billion presently, “Justices and officers’ welfare and the quality of service the judiciary render have continued to decline.”

He said that it was owing to allegations of corruption and perversion of justice that informed President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to order the invasion of homes and arrest of some judges in 2016.

Pointing the finger of corruption of the immediate past Administration, “Not done, in 2019 the government accosted, arrested and arraigned the incumbent Chief Justice before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged underhand conduct.

“With his retirement apparently negotiated, he was eventually left off the hook.

“In 2022, a letter signed by all other justices of the Supreme Court, including the current Chief Justice, the aggrieved protested against the shabby treatment meted to them by the head of court and the Chief Registrar.

“In the event, his lordship Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad disengaged ostensibly on grounds of ill-health.

As if to say watch it, as he states what I consider to be his regret after 47 years of what should have been a meritorious service to the judiciary but stripped of its joy and pride. He went further, “My lords, distinguished invitees, ladies and gentlemen, it is obvious that the judiciary I am exiting from is far from the one I voluntarily joined and desired to serve and be identified with”.

If at his terminal point after 47 years, he has any reason not to want to identify with what took 47 years of his life from him, could there be something fishy?

He closed his toast with the line, “the institution has become something else”.

The question we need to ask ourselves is what has our judiciary become and what has become of our nation as a result of our judiciary under its present leadership as inferred by retiring Justice.

The greatest confrontation of all our arms of government in Nigeria is corruption. This stench needs urgent attention.

Fortunately, all are led by those who in the past have files opened for them by one agency of government or the other. Restructuring of our federal system to free the Legislative and Judiciary from the grip of the Executive may be the way forward. When are we restructuring that Nigeria may live!