THE JUDICIARY IS IN DISTRESS
The two-day meeting of the National Judicial Council will begin on Tuesday 15th January. It is a scheduled meeting which will be presided by the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Walter S. Nkanu Onnoghen, who happens to be Chairman of the Council. The meeting has long been fixed before the problem of Justice Onnoghen began with the code of Conduct Bureau. Already members of the council are in Abuja for what may turn out to be a crucial meeting of the council.
Issues to be discussed includes appointments of judicial officers and the discipline of the judicial officers. Surely the issue of petition written against Justice Onnoghen will come but is not listed. The deputy chairman of the council who may likely take over from Justice Onnoghen as Chief Justice in the future, Honourable Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad will attend the meeting. Justice Tanko Muhammad is from Doguwa-Giade, a local government in Bauchi State. He is 65. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1980. He later obtained a Master and Doctorate (Ph.D.) degree from Ahmadu Bello University. Justice Tanko Muhammad began his career in 1982, after he was call to the bar in 1981, the same year he graduated from the Nigeria Law School. By procedure he has five more years to spend in the Supreme Court.
Other members of the Council who are already in Abuja are Justice Z.A. Bulckachuwa, Justice E.O. Ayoola, Justice Sunday Akinola Akintan, CON, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, Justice V.O.A. Omage, Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati, Justice B.A. Adejumo, Justice Nasiru Ajanah, Justice M.L. Abimbola, Justice Kashim Zannah, Justice Pascal Obinna Nnadi and Justice Marshall Umukoro. Others are Hon Grand Kadi Mohammed Abdulkadir, Justice Julia Kyentu, A.B. Mahmud, SAN, Dr. Garba Tetengi, SAN, Muiz Banire, SAN, Lady Debby Obodoukwu, Mrs. R.I. Niga and Ahmed Gambo Saleh, the Secretary of Judicial Council of Nigeria.
The embattled President of the Nigeria Bar Association, Mr Paul Usoro will attend the meeting as well as a prominent lawyer, Mr Daniel Dodo.
The National Judicial Council is the apex body for the Nation’s Judiciary. It is one of the Federal Executives Bodies created by virtue of Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended. The Council is vested with enormous powers and functions, which no such institution in the 1979 or any other previous Constitution had.
By the provision of the Paragraph 21 of Part One of the Third Schedule o the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended; “The National Judicial Council shall have power to recommend to the President from among the list of persons submitted to it by the Federal Judicial Service Commission, persons for appointment to the Offices of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Justices of the Supreme Court, the President and Justices of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Judge and Judges of the Federal High Court, the President and Judges of National Industrial Court, and the Judicial Service Committee of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, persons for appointments to the Offices of the Chief Judge and Judges of the High Court of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the Grand Kadi and Kadis of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and the President and Judges of the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
It is rather unfortunate that Justice Onnoghen and Mr.Paul Usoro are on trial at this time. The trail makes a mockery of the good work the National Judicial Council has been doing of late in cleansing the Judiciary.
I am aware that the council had sanctioned many judicial officers and has set up the proper procedure on the way forward for the judiciary.
I will not dwell much on the trial of Mr.Usoro since EFCC is prosecuting him already, but that of the Chief Justice came like a bombshell. There have been conspiracy theories on the issue but in spite of that, the Chief Justice of the federation must be above board. That office is too important to be ridiculed with scandals.
Since the appointment of Justice Onnoghen there has been one problem or the other. There has been no incumbent Chief Justice that has been embattled like Justice Walter Onnoghen. All things being equal, he still has almost two years to spend on that seat before December 22, 2020.
The circumstances of his being sworn-in has not been without crisis. He was nominated by the acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and was confirmed by the Senate on March 1, 2017, and thereafter sworn in on March 7 2017. Justice Onnoghen who is from Okurike Town, Biase Local Government of Cross Rivers State, was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Olusegun Obasanjo. By seniority, after Justice Mahmud Mohammed, he was to be the Chief Justice of the Federation and why President Muhammadu Buhari did not forward his name before he travelled out for confirmation in March 2017 is still a mystery to me. By order of seniority, if he retires as expected in spite of the current crisis, he will be succeeded by Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed. The hierarchy is not determined by age but by the time you are sworn-in as a Justice of the Supreme Court. Next to Justice Tanko Mohammed is Justice Ola bode Rhodes-Vivour. Justice Olabode Vivour is from Lagos State. He is 67. He was called to the bar in 1975. The third on the line is Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, 67, from Ukawu, Onicha, Ebonyi State. He is an Ezza-speaking person by birth. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in Law from Obafemi Awolowo University and was called to the bar, the Nigerian bar in 1978 after he graduated from the Nigeria Law School. Justice Ngwuta was arrested by the Department of State Security Services (DSS) on 8 October 2016 on an allegation of bribery and corruption. The fourth in line is Justice Mary Ukaego Odili (66) (nee Nzenwa), CFR. She is the wife of Peter Odili, former Governor of Rivers State from 1999 to 2007. She was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (JSC) by President Goodluck Jonathan and was administered the oath of office by Chief Justice Katsina-Alu on 23 June 2011.
She met Peter Odili, a medical doctor, at a campus party and the two began a romantic relationship. In 1976, she graduated with an LLB (Hons) and was rated the best student in the department of commercial and property law. Shortly after, she attended the Nigerian Law School and received her B.L. certificate in 1977, before embarking on her youth service in Benin City and Abeokuta. Odili was serving as a house officer in Benin City at the time.
In a hierarchy, the following are Justices of the Supreme Court-Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammed, Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, Justice Kumai B. Akaahs, Justice K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun, Justice John Inyang Okoro, Justice Chima C. Nweze, Justice Amiru Sanusi, Justice Amina A. Augie, Justice Ejembi Eko, Justice P.A. Galinje and Justice Sidi Bage.
The Judiciary must rise above board if it is to earn the honour and dignity that it deserves. A judicial officer must be the last to break the law under any excuse of ignorance. A corrupt judiciary will lead to a corrupt society. The Nigerian Judiciary must purge itself.