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As stakeholders in Nigeria’s justice system, the undersigned civil society bodies whose work is underpinned by, and relies on the rule of law and the integrity of Nigeria’s justice system, feel the strong weight of professional and moral duty to make these representations to Your Lordship concerning the state of Nigeria’s Judiciary under your leadership. Our aim is to call attention to the harm which continuing
missteps, misuse of authority and a general failure to undertake effective reform, is doing to the Judiciary that has, over the years, borne the trauma of massive decline and destabilization, and to press Your Lordship to address these issues.

The Judiciary’s decline, to be fair, preceded Your Lordship’s appointment as Chief Justice of Nigeria (“CJN”) in 2022, but overlaps Your Lordship’s many years of judicial service. This decline is highlighted by a number of surveys, such as those by the ICPC
(Nigeria Corruption Index: Report of A Pilot Survey) and the UNODC/NBS (Corruption in Nigeria Bribery: public experience and response (2017).

Your Lordship came into office at troubling moments of our Judiciary’s history. Recall that, in 2022, shortly before Your Lordships appointment, you led 13 other Justices of the Supreme Court in taking the unprecedented step of petitioning then CJN, Hon. Justice Tanko Muhammad CFR GCON, lamenting his manner of leadership, unresponsiveness, nepotism and maladministration in overseeing the business and welfare of the Supreme Court and its Justices. Not long after, Hon. Justice T. Muhammad announced an early retirement from office. May we, in this regard, further note that Hon. Justice Tanko Muhammad’s predecessor also left office in even more tragic circumstances. These two cases were firsts of their kind, unprecedented in our
judicial history.

May we note, however, that prior to these internal fissures in the Judiciary, there had been external incidents – also without precedent – whose impact on the Judiciary had been hugely staggering. Your Lordship will recall that in October 2016, Nigerian Security operatives invaded houses and courts of judicial officers – including those of Supreme Court Justices – following allegations of corruption, and which subsequently led to indictments against a number of judges, alongside a Supreme Court Justice, although these indictments were quashed subsequently for procedural infractions. Many observers see these incidents as highly damaging of the Judiciary’s dignity, respect and public trust.

Following Your Lordship’s appointment as CJN, expectations were high that, with benefit of a long and instructive range of hindsight, Your Lordship would be acutely conscious of the extreme urgency of reforming the judiciary and its administration, arresting it’s downward spiral in public trust, and reinforcing its capacity to promote and protect the
rule of law. May we say, very respectfully, that, as of now, the Judiciary remains unreconstructed and its public perception has not improved since then. On the contrary, we are very concerned that it has steadily grown worse since Your Lordship assumed it’s leadership. Furthermore, Your Lordship’s personal actions – quite apart from the dysfunctionalities of the justice system – are harming the already fragile and enfeebled Judiciary, and whatever is left of its credibility.

We are not unconscious of the weight of this judgment, but have not reached it hastily or flippantly, believing they are justified by substantial evidence. Under Your Lordships watch, the Judiciary has suffered further reputational harm, mostly accounted for by:

A. Reabsorption of dismissed/compulsorily retired Judges
The National Judicial Council (“NJC”) chaired by Your Lordship has reinstated two Judges removed by the NJC for serious misconduct without, at the very least, exhausting available legal avenues to keep these Judges out of the Judiciary, in order to safeguard against the huge embarrassment their reabsorption would cause to the perception of the Judiciary. Justice Gladys Olotu was compulsorily
retired in 2014 for grievous misconduct by former President Buhari, following a recommendation by the NJC. Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia was dismissed in 2018, after the NJC found that she had received monies from several persons and corporations using corporate accounts. It is conceded that these Judges won lawsuits for their reinstatement, but the judgments they got faulted the procedure of their removal and not the substantive merits of the case brought against them.

Given the overarching importance of upholding public trust in the judicial process, it is hugely disappointing that the NJC chose to not do more to vindicate and
reinforce its original determinations against the two Judges. The Council could, for instance, have appealed the judgments and waited for a final opinion on the legality of its decision; or, given that no statute of limitation prevented it from reexercising its disciplinary procedures against them, recommenced proceedings to hold them ultimately accountable, ensuring they are not anymore in a position to harm the fragile image of the Judiciary. The NJC’s “surrender” to these Judges, counting the options available to it, is, in our respectful view, a profound demonstration of its lack of commitment to the institutional standing and reputation of the Judiciary and the Council’s ineffectiveness as an oversight body.

B. Turning a Blind Eye to Issues of Judicial Integrity
It may additionally be observed that Your Lordship is turning a blind eye to the importance of maintaining, as much as possible, integrity in the Judiciary, and that most of Your Lordship’s rhetoric in this regard may possibly be passed-off as lip service. Before the recent appointments of Justices into the Supreme Court, one of the signatories to this letter, Access to Justice, twice made representations to Your Lordship as Chairman of the NJC to investigate allegations made against one of the nominated Justices -Hon. Justice Chidiebere Uwa – following unresolved
accusations of corruption and violations of the Judicial Code of Conduct against her as a Judge of Abia State. None of the two letters, dated 1/08/2022 and 30/11/2023 received as much as an acknowledgment. The same organization requested
that the NJC investigate allegations made by Hon. Justice Dattijo Muhammed concerning deliberate delays in filling Supreme Court vacancies (details in para. D, below) in a letter dated 30th Nov. 2023. Up till this time, the NJC has refused to
acknowledge or act on the letter.

C. Allegations of Nepotism and Illicit Influence Peddling
A number of appointments in the Judiciary since Your Lordship assumed office have triggered charges of nepotism and the illicit use of influence against Your
Lordship. It is claimed that you improperly used your influence as CJN to promote the appointment of your family members into judicial and administrative positionsvin the Judiciary.
Those appointments include those of your son, Hon. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola Jr, (who was recommended by the NJC on July 14th 2023) for appointment as Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (“FCT”) High Court; Your nephew (Hon.
Justice Lateef Ganiyu) as Justice of the Court of Appeal and your junior brother, Mr. Adebayo Ariwoola as Auditor of the NJC in Dec. 2023.

The latest of these allegations came last month, after it was alleged that Your Lordship influenced the FCT High Court judicial recruitment process by requesting that a slot be reserved for Oyo State in the recruitment, at the expense of States
which had no Judges in the FCT High Court, to ensure that Your Lordships daughter-in-law, who is a Magistrate in the FCT Judiciary be selected for
appointment as a Judge of the FCT High Court. These allegations are found in a plethora of media publications.1 We have no record that Your Lordship denied these claims.

D. Manipulating Timing of Appointments of Supreme Court Justices
Speaking at his valedictory session at the Supreme Court in November 2023, Hon. Justice Dattijo Muhammed (rtd), accused Your Lordship of deliberately refusing to make additional appointments of Supreme Court Justices (even when the court was depleted to 11 Justices), implying, per force, that while the Supreme Court was suffocating under the pressure of acutely-reduced bench numbers, Your Lordship was, for whatever motive, preserving the stifling status-quo in order to achieve some ulterior objective. At least, this is the sense in which we understand rtd. Justice Muhammed’s allegations. Your Lordship is not known to have denied the allegations too, even when there was ample opportunity to do so, lending credence to the view that the accusations are credible. Shortly after the Supreme Court decided the presidential election petition cases, we would note the coincidence that there was renewed traction in appointing new Justices to fill the vacancies on the Court’s bench.

E. Worsening Strain on Judiciary’s Public Perception
The net effect of the forgoing is that Nigeria’s Judiciary has further lost the respect of Nigerians and the international community, and is, in fact, endangering its own legitimacy. The loss of dignity is increasingly observed in a variety of media platforms. Hon. Justice Dattijo Mohammed himself had, at his valedictory, warned that “public perception of the judiciary have over the years become witheringly scornful and monstrously critical”. Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group
recently delivered a stinging distress call, saying that it was worried “at the dwindling image and increasing loss of confidence in the judiciary by the Nigerian
people.” Former Minister of Education/World Bank Africa Region Vice President Oby Ezekwesili, recently called out Nigeria’s Judiciary as being “rotten”. Olumide Akpata, former President of the NBA, said not long ago that: “There is nearuniversal agreement that public confidence in the Judiciary … is at an all-time low”.
Similar tropes are reverberating across broad spectrums of public opinion.

Unfortunately, notwithstanding the damning nature of these characterizations and warnings, the leadership of Nigeria’s Judiciary appears unruffled by them, nor by the Judiciary’s loss of esteem, and barely shows any signs of irritation or
indignation. But the reputational harm is affecting and stigmatizing many conscientious Judges/Justices who serve honourably, and do not deserve the unfair tarring of the entire institution by the same brush, irrespective of the disposition of the Judiciary’s leadership to the embarrassment. No respectable Judiciary, we are persuaded, should afford to remain indifferent to the forms of public malignment and ridicule against it as we have witnessed in Nigeria.

F. Office of Chief Justice of Nigeria, a Public Trust, not to Promote Personal
At this time, Nigeria’s judiciary – as many believe – is bumping along the bottom, but Your Lordship’s actions have arguably exacerbated that already bad situation, plunging the Judiciary’s image further down the barrel. The office of Chief Justice of Nigeria is a public trust, and the holder of that office, we respectfully submit, is under duty to exercise that trust in the public interest and not in privileging the
interest of family members over the interests of the larger institution. Moreover, as head of the Judiciary, Your Lordship’s actions carry very significant, far-reaching implications; they represent a frame of reference against which other actors might
justify their own parochialisms, and, therefore, are bad precedents. Furthermore, where judicial officers or other heads of courts contravene judicial standards of conduct, or engage in unethical practices – such as nepotism – Your Lordship could
not properly be in a position to sit over them in judgment.

G. Conclusion
Your Lordship, we are concerned that Nigeria’s judiciary, a once proud institution, has lost direction and is now barely a shadow of itself. Whatever remains of its credibility now lies hanging by a thread. Therefore, there is a certain “urgency of
now” to pull the Judiciary from the brink of complete perdition, by avoiding actions that elevate that risk, as well as a dire need to overhaul the entire judicial system.
Declaring a state of emergency in the Judiciary would be a good start. Ensuring that judicial selection decisions are transparently and verifiably merit-based, is a pressing need at this time.

Your Lordship, it has been said that “no system of justice can rise above the ethics of those who administer it”; Nigeria’s judiciary will not likely rise from the abyss unless its leadership exercises better and more selfless stewardship of their high
responsibilities. This is what Nigerians want to see now.

In closing, we find it especially fitting to borrow our final words from a letter which Your Lordship co-authored (with 13 other Justices of the Supreme Court), to your predecessor, Justice Tanko Muhammad CFR, GCON (rtd) in June 2022. It is thus:

“Your Lordship, this is a wake up call. Your Lordship must take full
responsibility as our leader…. We will not wait for the total collapse of the
institution. We must not abandon our responsibility … in the face of these
sad developments that threaten our survival as an institution. We have done
our utmost best to send a wake up call to Your Lordship. A stich in time saves

We thank Your Lordship for his kind consideration.
Yours sincerely,


Access to Justice                                                  Joseph Otteh

On behalf of;
Chairman, Human & Constitutional                       Sonnie Ekwowusi Esq

Rights Committee, African Bar

Fight Against Corruption in the Judiciary               Bayo Akinlade

FundELG Africa.                                                  Dominic E. Obozuwa
Open Justice Alliance                                           Prof. Chidi Anslem Odinkalu

Rule of Law and Accountability                             Okechukwu Nwanguma,
Advocacy Centre- RULAAC

Sterling Law Centre                                             Adedeji Ajare


1. The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice,
Federal Ministry of Justice,
2. Hon. Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun JSC,
Deputy National Chairman
National Judicial Council









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