The number of Justices of the Supreme Court has dropped to 13 following the retirement of Justice Abdu Aboki.
Justice Aboki, according to a statement by the court’s spokesman, Dr. Festus Akande, stepped off the apex court’s bench on August 5 upon attaining the statutory retirement age of 70.
His statement reads in part: “Justice Aboki clocked 70 years, being the statutory retirement age for justices of Supreme Court on Friday, 5th August, 2022, but the valedictory court session could not hold then due to the annual vacation of the Court.
The Apex Court is expected to fill these vacancies to meet up with the 21 limit of Justices.
Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad has excluded lawyers, including seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), from the six present or future vacancies at the Supreme Court. None of the 23 lawyers who heeded the CJN’s January 19 invitation and applied for the job is on a 29-man provisional list which is made up of 29 Justices of the Court of Appeal from five geopolitical zones; the shortlist includes five jurists each from the Northcentral, Northwest, Southsouth and Southwest, while the Southeast has a nine-man jurist team.
The list of the remaining 13 Justices of the Supreme Court includes;
1. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, Ag CJN
2. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad
3. Justice Kudirat Motommori Olatokunbo Kekere Ekun
4. Justice Inyang Okoro
5. Justice Chima Centus Nweze
6. Justice Amina Adamu Augie
7. Justice Uwani Abba Aji
8. Justice Lawal Garba
9. Justice Helen M. Ogunwumiju
10. Justice I.N.M. Saulawa
11. Justice Adamu Jauro
12. Justice Tijjani Abubakar
13. Justice Emmanuel A. Agim
The then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad (rtd), had commended President Muhammadu Buhari for the appointment of Aboki and the seven others, stating that: “The bench of the Supreme Court is one short of its full complement of 21 Justices.
“Before now, there are only 12 Justices on the bench of the Supreme Court but with the new eight Justices, we now have 20 Justices.”
However, in less than two years, the bench has witnessed a sharp drop from 20 to 13, owing to death and retirements.
This year alone, the Supreme Court so far has witnessed four retirements. First was Justice Mary Peter-Odili, who retired on May 13, 2022 and was quickly followed by Justice Ejembi Eko on May 23 and thirdly, former CJN, Ibrahim Muhammad, on June 27.
However, while both Justices Peter-Odili and Eko had retired based on attaining the compulsory retirement age of 70 years, the former CJN hurriedly resigned before his retirement age which was due in December next year.
Although, Muhammad had cited health reasons for his prematured retirement, it would be recalled that 14 Justices of the Supreme Court had protested over working conditions at the apex court which they said was deplorable in the history of the Judiciary.
Following the protest and other corruption allegations, the former CJN then tendered his resignation letter to the president and Justice Kayode Ariwoola, who was next in rank to him then, was sworn in as CJN after his confirmation by the Senate.
With the current number of 13, including the CJN, Justice Ariwoola, that the workload on the final court will be too cumbersome would be an understatement.
For example, for any constitutional matter to be heard, it would require the constitution of a seven-man panel. The implication is that with the current number of 13 Justices, the apex court cannot constitute two separate panels at once.
It should be noted that the next general election is roughly six months away and with several pre-election matters at various stages in the various levels of courts and all definitely ending up in the apex court, the need for appointment of more Justices cannot be more urgent.
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