Supreme Court to have full complement of 21 Justices soon – CJN, Ariwoola

Justice Olukayode Lateef Ariwoola

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, on Monday revealed that the Supreme Court will for the first time in its history, get the constitutionally-prescribed 21 justices any moment from now.

The development, he said, is to rescue the Apex Court from the gale of retirements that hit it which for the first time brought the number of Justices to an all-time low of just 10 Justices.

Justice Ariwoola made this known on the occasion of the commencement of the 2023/2024 legal year of the Court and the inauguration of 58 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) held at the Supreme Court Complex.

The CJN explained that the struggle to have 21 Justices on the Supreme Court bench as required by law, was kick-started by his predecessor but that the effort was unsuccessful before he left office.

However, upon his assumption of office on the 27th day of June 2022, he said he immediately got down to work on the struggle because of its urgent and immediate need in particular.

He said, “Although we have not gotten them on board yet, I can convincingly tell the litigant public that in a very short while, the Supreme Court of Nigeria will, for the very first time in its history, get the Constitutionally-prescribed full complement of 21 Justices”.

“That is one of the legacies I have been working assiduously to leave behind as it now seems that the Court has been somewhat ‘jinxed’ from meeting its Constitutional requirement since that piece of legislation was enacted several years ago”.

He spoke on the fate that has befallen the judiciary, adding, “Our Courts should be trusted at home and abroad for the high level of respect for the rule of law and the institutional and personal independence of our judiciary.

The CJN canvassed that the independence of the judiciary must be given adequate statutory protection, not just at the Federal level alone but equally at the State level so that they could be seen to be truly and genuinely independent in all ramifications.

“The rule of law and the holistic independence of the judiciary should always be cherished by all. As the Chief Justice of Nigeria, I will do everything within my ability to make it remain part of my responsibility to nourish.

“The Judiciary, as it is today, is more deserving of public trust and confidence than ever before; and we are poised to reposition it for effective justice delivery to make our beloved country a destination of note in the observance of the rule of law and tenets of Constitutionalism.

“It is a solemn pledge that we, as a judicial body, are making at this occasion that we are definitely going to work more assiduously and tirelessly to make our country earn for itself the fullest respect and confidence of both the citizens and the international community.

He advised all Judicial Officers serving in our jurisdiction to make books their armour and hard work their armaments to confront the headwinds of ignorance, conservatism and stagnation.

“Such a Judge, who does not maintain the highest standard of integrity, has no right to continue to occupy the Chair as a Judicial Officer. In the same vein, if a Judicial Officer is found to be corrupt, then, he cannot be allowed to hold such a divine Chair of a Judge.

“Like I said earlier, be bold in all your judgments by deciding cases without fear or favour, because fear and favour come in many hues and colours. For instance, fear of one’s own past, of peer pressure, of public criticism, etc.

“Like some people often misconstrue, favour does not only come in monetary terms but also through nepotism, personal bias and prejudices. We should all know that if the faith of the people is to be maintained in the Judiciary, then the river of judicial process has to be kept pure.

“On that basis, we must eschew fear and favour at all cost. If the people think your judgment is biased, tainted, or partial, they will doubt the judicial process and the river of justice will stand contaminated. No doubt about that!

“Therefore, it is our solemn responsibility to keep the river clean at all times. Needless to say, impartiality is the hallmark of a Judge. So, I admonish all of us to always be impartial in all our judgments.

On the performance of the Apex Court in the last year, the CJN said matters filed at the Court from the 12th day of September 2022 to the 11th day of July 2023, stood at 1,271, comprising motions and appeals. Out of which he said the Court heard 388 political appeals, 215 criminal appeals, and 464 civil appeals.

Similarly, he said, the court considered a total number of 49 criminal motions, 153 civil motions, and 2 political motions.

Between the 30th day of September 2022 and the 11th day of July 2023, he said the Court delivered a total number of 251 judgments. Out of these, 125 were political appeals, 81 were civil appeals and 45 were criminal appeals.

“Within the period under review (precisely 10 months’ duration), a total number of 91 Rulings were delivered by the Court”.

The CJN changed the new SANs to watch their utterances, actions and the company they keep because they have already assumed the role of Ministers of the Court, as they are now expected to assist the Court in attaining justice, equity and fairness in all ramifications.

“You must display enormous integrity, self-discipline and a high standard of advocacy as custodians of justice”, the CJN said.

“The privilege you are conferred with today does not, in any way, make you superhuman because humility and self-control remain the essential tools to engage in wrestling the foibles of life”.

Even as we celebrate the successes recorded in the past legal year in the disposal of cases, I would like to admonish all Nigerians on the imperative of being less litigious and being more disposed to alternative dispute resolutions to free the courts of this unnecessary over-stretching of both human and material resources.

I have made it clear on different occasions that it is not every dispute that must find its way to the court, and it is not every matter that must come up to the Supreme Court on appeal.

“Our laws have to be amended to make most appeals end at the Court of Appeal, which is competent, dexterous and well-equipped with the right materials and manpower to adjudicate effectively and resourcefully. In every dispute, only one party must win; and winning could come after intense legal fireworks that are transparent and based solely on subsisting laws of the land.

“We cannot import foreign laws to try our cases here, as some litigants would erroneously and desperately want us to do in the quest to get victory.

“If we really want to make progress as a nation and collectively build a virile legal framework that will serve our interest to the best of its ability, we must begin to have a change of attitude.