FIRST BANK ADVERT

LATEST NEWS

Politics of succession at the Supreme Court

Politics of succession at the Supreme Court

As it is in all countries all over the world, except, perhaps, in a few totalitarian states (if there still exists any), the Nigerian Supreme Court, the highest in the land, is the final forum for appeal in the nation’s adjudicatory system. The Apex Court, as it is of­ten called, has interpreted the Constitution and has decided the country’s pre-eminent le­gal disputes since it was estab­lished. In fact, virtually every issue of significance or dis­pute of immense value in the Nigerian society eventually arrives at the Supreme Court. Its decisions ultimately affect the rights and freedoms of every citizen-rich, poor, Ni­gerians or foreigners living in the country, pregnant women, those accused of committing crime, those on death row, publishers, journalists, law­yers, bankers, accountants, environmentalists, business men and women, armed rob­bers, drug peddlers, prosti­tutes, and a host of others. In­deed, the Supreme Court has continued to manifest its em­brace of an activist role, of ju­dicial legislating, of lawmak­ing, of judicial activism, even if some of its nuances may well be distinguished from its predecessor tribunals. Above all, the Court, since the amal­gamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria in 1914 when the pio­neer Chief Justice was Sir Ed­win Speed, has maintained its revered and enviable tradition of succession based on sen­iority. Of course, to establish criteria for standards of merit as a basis for selection of in­dividuals qualified to serve on our courts is difficult and definitionally controversial. Still establishment of criteria for qualification and selection and for bases for evaluative judgements of performance cannot be ruled out. Unfortu­nately, the media are, of recent inundated with feelers of plots by the powers-that-be to polit­icize the succession process of the Apex Court which is much against the cherished tradition of the Court.
With the reigning Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed due for retirement on November 10, 2016 when he would have at­tained his mandatory retire­ment age of 70, an alleged plot by the powers-that-be to trun­cate the age-long seniority rule in the judiciary is said to be in the pipeline. Reports have it that there are very powerful forces plotting to alter the sen­iority rule that would probably see the second-in-command, Hon. Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen take over the af­fairs of the Apex Court after Mohammed retires from the Bench come November 10. These sinister forces have re­portedly argued that anybody appointed to be CJN must not necessarily be the most senior justice of the Supreme. But their lame argument holds no water as more progres­sive lawyers and concerned Nigerians have condemned the move. Not even military rulers including General Mu­hammadu Buhari himself, with the enormous powers they wielded, attempted to emasculate the highest court in the land. Even throughout his eight two terms tenure as civilian president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo did not change the rule governing succession at the Supreme Court. If we must consolidate this democratic dispensation, then we must not be seen to be dragging it to the mud. In the face of obvious agitations for secession and militancy in the South East and South South amidst cries of marginaliza­tion, we must be careful not to aggravate the situation due to the ambition and maladroit hues of a few people in power who want to see Nigeria as their private estate.
Indeed, there are palpable fears that if President Buhari succumbs to mounting pres­sures from some Northern elite and their All Progressives Congress (APC) collabora­tors not to send Justice On­noghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation as CJN, the South will miss the golden op­portunity to clinch the exalted office.
It would be recalled that Justice Ayo Irikefe who was CJN between 1985 and 1987 was the last Southerner to oc­cupy the office, about 30 years ago. Unarguably, the CJN sits as “Primus inter pares” (first among equals) in the intricate power calculus in the nation’s judiciary and one of the first five most important person­alities in government. He is the Chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) as well as Chairman of the National Judicial Coun­cil (NJC). Both commissions are very important as they are involved in the process of promoting anybody to any position in the federal judici­ary. Against the backdrop of the perceived attempt by the powers-that-be to northernise and Islamise all existing insti­tutions of government in Ni­geria in an orchestrated and vengeful political gerryman­dering, any attempt to under­mine the judiciary would spell doom for the country.
Since 1914 when this vast geographical abstraction be­came one Nigeria, and since 1960 when the country gained flag independence on a plat­ter of gold from its colonial masters, the headship of all courts including the Supreme Court is usually based on sen­iority. In fact, from the High Court to the Supreme Court, the tradition has not changed. It is therefore not now that a Southerner will qualify to oc­cupy the seat that the tradi­tion would change abruptly. Yet, it is not about Onnoghen as a person. It is about equity and justice which the Supreme Court indubitably symbolizes.
If, as investigation revealed, the plot to stop Onnoghen started gathering momen­tum when the APC expressed anger with the Apex Court’s favourable verdict for the op­position Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in some South South States, why use On­noghen as scape goat? Do leaders of the ruling party expect the Court to dance to their tune at the expense of justice? Why have they forgot­ten so soon that Onnoghen was among the three justices of the Supreme Court who took a minority position and insisted that the massively flawed 2007 presidential election which enthroned the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua be cancelled in favour of Mr
. Mu­hammadu Buhari of the All Ni­geria People’s Party (ANPP)? Born on December 22, 1950, in Cross River State of Nigeria, Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen who graduated in Second Class Upper Division from the prestigious Univer­sity of Legon, Ghana, became a justice of the Supreme Court in 2005. If nominated and confirmed by the Senate, he would retire from the Bench in 2020 when he would have clocked 70. The incumbent CJN, Justice Mohammed is from Taraba State while the next after Onnoghen, Justice Tanko Mohammed hails from Bauchi State. Since after Jus­tice Irikefe in 1985, the North has produced virtually all the CJNs till date: Justice Moham­med Bello (1987-1995), Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais (1995-2006), Justice Salisu Modibo Alfa Belgore (2006-2007), Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi (2007-2009), Justice Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu (2009-2011), Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar (2012-2014) and the presiding deity, Justice Mahmud Mohammed (2014 till date).

 

No comments