A retiring Supreme Court judge criticizes the CJN for leaving out Supreme Court justices from the East and for the makeup of the appeal panel for the presidential election.

A retiring Supreme Court judge criticizes the CJN for leaving out Supreme Court justices from the East and for the makeup of the appeal panel for the presidential election.
Musa Dattijo Muhammad, a retiring justice of the Supreme Court, unleashed a torrent of criticism on Friday, attacking the Chief Justice of Nigeria's (CJN) "absolute powers" and criticizing the makeup of the panel that rendered the rulings upholding President Bola Tinubu's election victory on Thursday.

Using his extensive judicial expertise, he also criticized the South-east region's exclusion from the Supreme Court bench, attributing this to "the absolute powers vested in the office of the CJN."

 Muhammad revealed the shocking information during the farewell event hosted in his honor at the Supreme Court building in Abuja. Muhammad reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 yesterday.

 His outburst was a first-of-its-kind direct criticism of the country's chief justice, whom he claimed to have enjoyed an excessive concentration of administrative and monitoring authority throughout the judiciary.

Although he was the only one in charge of assembling the panel, Olukayode Ariwoola, the current Chief Justice, was not present on the panel that delivered the Supreme Court's rulings on the appeals of the presidential election on Thursday.

Speaking about the makeup of the seven-member court panel that rejected the appeals against President Tinubu's election submitted by Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), respectively, Muhammad stated that all six geopolitical zones in the nation should be represented.

Before confirming Tinubu's victory, the seven-member panel, presided over by Inyang Okoro, a native of Akwa Ibom State in the South-South zone, determined that Atiku and Obi's arguments lacked merit. Only the North-east, North-West, and South-South regions of the nation were represented on the panel out of the six.

The situation for South-East and North-Central is made worse by the fact that these two regions are now without representation on the severely reduced bench of the highest court, following the retirement of Muhammad, a native of Niger State (North-Central), and the passing of Centus Nweze, a native of Enugu State (South-East), in July.

The retiring judge said it was intentional and "is all about the absolute powers vested in the office of the CJN," blaming the delay in making sure the two regions had members on the Supreme Court bench on the CJN.

All geopolitical zones must be present at the hearing in order to guarantee justice and openness in presidential appeals from the lower court. Therefore, the court said, it is perilous for democracy and equity for two entire areas to be excluded from choices that will impact Nigerians as a whole.

Muhammad's criticism of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and several facets of the country's legal system is the most recent from a retiring Supreme Court justice.

Muhammad's criticism follows less than two months after Abdul Aboki, a former justice of the Supreme Court, demanded transparency in the use of court finances during his final court session.

Ejembi Eko, who was also retiring from the Supreme Court, denounced corruption in the Nigerian judiciary in May 2022, particularly in the way its money were handled.

   In his farewell court speech, Eko had urged anti-graft agencies to look into the financial records of the judiciary, saying, "Nothing stops the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, the ICPC and other investigatory agencies from opening the books of the judiciary to expose the corruption in the management of their budgetary resources."

   Muhammad went on a tirade, claiming that since the CJN is the chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and other statutory judicial bodies, such as the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC), the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), the National Judicial Institute (NJI), and others, "the oversight functions of these bodies should not rest on an individual alone." It is stated that someone with total power corrupts completely and easily.

   Given his vast authority, Muhammad claimed that the CJN selects judges for the various judicial organizations without consulting "with fellow justices nor seeking their counsel or input on any matter related to these bodies." He is the sole one with the last say.

   Sixty percent of the FJSC members and eighty percent of the NJC members are subject to appointment by the CJN. The same holds true for LPPC and NJI. Abuse of such immense powers is easy. This must be altered. Muhammad pointed out that "effective judicial oversight in the nation is weakened by the continued denial of the existence of this dangerous anomaly."

Nonetheless, Chief Justice of the Nigeria, Justice Ariwoola, stated that attempts are on to promote a significant number of judges to the bench of the highest court, despite the fact that the court now has 10 justices, the fewest in history.

"Just 10 Justices remain on the Supreme Court Bench, the lowest number in the court's modern history, following the departure of Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad today and Justice Adamu Augie's retirement a few weeks ago," he stated.

"That being said, I can tell the litigant public with confidence that we are making every effort to add a significant number of Justices to our ranks in order to complement the enormous amount of work we have been putting into the Court's operations."

Shaking off the critiques and praising Muhammad, the CJN called him an exemplar of greatness that goes beyond the legal field. He declared, "I am extremely thrilled to be present for this unique valedictory session, but I am also extremely overwhelmed emotionally."

"This is not because this is my first time witnessing or presiding over a valedictory session; rather, it is because we are honoring a classic judicial icon with brilliant attributes and captivating stature who can be categorised as an exemplary figure that goes beyond the legal profession in a single breath.

"My Lord Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad, in whose honor we are gathered here today, is the pinnacle of jurisprudential grace; an unstoppable lion in the temple of justice with an unquenchable voice.

"We are here to honor a distinguished jurisprudential iconoclast who has dedicated his many years of impeccable and unchallenged judgments at various Nigerian court levels to the progress of the legal profession.

By all accounts, His Lordship has made a profound impact on the highly regarded history books of the Nigerian judiciary as the valiant and distinguished Justice on the Supreme Court bench who unwaveringly maintained authority in the performance of his judicial duties.

"My Lord, Justice Dattijo, skillfully assisted and backed me almost in every domain of administration as second-in-command in the Supreme Court hierarchy. He is an excellent example of diligence, industry, self-control, and moral rectitude.

He voluntarily provided all the assistance and motivation a leader could hope for from a deputy in order to successfully navigate the frequently rough waters of court administration.

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