Ariwoola Emerges Acting CJN After Muhammad is Forced Out

•Don’t let Nigerians lose confidence in judiciary, Buhari warns Supreme Court justices 

•NBA links resignation to frosty relations with colleagues 

•Atiku commends ex-chief justice, Makinde congratulates successor

Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha and Alex Enumah in Abuja

Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, yesterday, emerged acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) after President Muhammadu Buhari administered the oath of office on him. Ariwoola’s emergence followed the sudden resignation of Justice Tanko Muhammad, who was allegedly forced out of office in the wake of allegations bordering on corruption.

Buhari warned the Supreme Court justices against any act that could make Nigerians lose confidence in the judiciary as the country prepared for national elections next year.

But the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said despite the cordial working relationship between the Bar and the Bench under Muhammad, it was impossible to consider his resignation in isolation from the recent developments at the Supreme Court, where 14 justices censured him over his handling of their welfare and related issues.

Nonetheless, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, commended the former CJN for seizing the initiative to resign, just as Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde congratulated the new CJN for reaching the peak of his career.

Muhammad’s sudden resignation on health grounds had raised suspicion among critical stakeholders, a majority of whom held the view that there was more to it.

However, new facts emerged that he did not resign out of his own freewill, but was actually forced out over multiple allegations of corruption. Some of the allegations were said to have involved his children, two of who emerged candidates of the two leading political parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and PDP – at their recent primaries.

Although details of the corruption allegations were not out yet at the time of filing this report, THISDAY gathered Muhammad was actually forced to resign immediately after interrogation by security agencies, which denied him the privilege of mulling his options because of the facts before them.

It was further gathered that since the emergence of his children as candidates of the two main political parties, the administration in which he served had become uncomfortable over the possibility of compromise at critical times.

Curiously, the timing of Muhammad’s resignation and the recent petition by 14 justices of the Supreme Court, who more or less questioned his capacity and handling of the affairs of the apex court, further corroborated insinuations that his resignation was not on health grounds.

Muhammad would be the second CJN to be forced out of office under the Buhari administration, in similar circumstances, the late Justice Walter Onoghen being the first.

Fourteen justices of the apex court had specifically protested, among others, the non-availability of basic amenities both in their chambers and homes, which, according to them, was capable of shutting down activities at the final court. In a protest letter to the CJN, dated March 23, 2022, they complained that poor welfare had hindered their job.

The grievances of the justices included the non-replacement of vehicles, accommodation problems, lack of drugs at the Supreme Court clinic, epileptic electricity supply to the Supreme Court, increase in electricity tariff, failure to increase diesel allowances, and lack of Internet services to their residences and chambers.

Others were internal problems, which included non-signing of amended Rules of Court for almost three years, sudden stoppage of two to three foreign workshops and trainings per annum for Justices, and no provision of qualified legal assistants.

Buhari to Justices: Don’t let Nigerians Lose Confidence in Judiciary

Buhari cautioned justices of the Supreme Court to guard against acts that could cause lose of confidence in the judiciary. He gave the warning yesterday at the State House, Abuja, while swearing in Ariwoola as acting CJN.

The president reiterated his administration’s commitment to independence of the judiciary, separation of powers, and the rule of law.

He said, “I want to admonish the justices of the Supreme Court to always remain faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and to remain steadfastly committed to the Oath of Allegiance, which they all subscribed to, as contained in the 7th Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

“Our nation is approaching a critical general election in 2023, the judiciary must not do anything to fail the ordinary people of Nigeria, which may make them lose confidence in the Judiciary.”

The president lauded the former CJN for strengthening democracy during his period in office.

He stated, “Nigeria’s judiciary under the leadership of Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, judiciously exercised the judicial powers of the federation. His era witnessed several landmark jurisprudential and policy decisions by the Supreme Court and, by extension, other courts established by the constitution. 

“CJN Tanko dealt firmly with the issue of reckless and indiscriminate grant of ex-parte orders that was assuming serious dimensions. History will be kind to Justice Tanko Muhammad for his modest contributions to Nigeria’s judiciary, the strengthening of our democracy and national development.”

Buhari used the occasion to confer on the ex-CJ the second highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).

He said, “In line with the custom of decorating Chief Justices of Nigeria with the second highest national honour of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), and upon the advice of the Council of State in that regard, as his Lordship CJN I. Tanko Muhammad, is taking a bow from the Supreme Court, I hereby bestow on him the National Honour of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).”

Buhari recalled that Muhammad, who was appointed acting CJN on January 25, 2019 and confirmed by the Senate on July 24, 2019, “was scheduled to retire from the Supreme Court on the last day of 2023. Unfortunately, as no man is infallible, ill-health has cut short Chief Justice Tanko’s leadership of the Nigerian judiciary at this time.

“I am, therefore, constrained to accept his retirement, albeit, with mixed feelings. Much as one may wish that the Chief Justice of Nigeria Muhammad Tanko is able to fully serve his term in office, it presupposes that he is able to perform the functions of the office without let, hindrance or any form of disability.”

The president explained that Muhammad’s resignation was envisaged under Section 231 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which contains provisions relating to vacancy and the occupant of the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria being unable to perform the functions of the office for any reason. 

Buhari said, “Under a constitutional democracy, like ours, government powers and responsibilities are clearly allocated and shared among the three tiers: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The three organs must work harmoniously and optimally in accordance with their respective constitutional mandates.”

On his commitment to separation of powers and the rule of law, the president said, “This occasion is an opportune time for me to, as always, assure the Nigerian judiciary that this administration is committed to ensuring the independence of the judiciary and will not do anything nor take any steps to undermine your independence.

“We shall uphold the constitutional provisions on the rule of law and the principles of separation of powers.”

Speaking with newsmen after his swearing in, Ariwoola assured that he would not fail Nigerians in his new assignment.

He said, “What Nigerians expect from me is to comply, preserve and abide and protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And so be it. That is what I will do, especially, with the cooperation of my brother Justices of the Supreme Court. We shall not fail Nigerians.”

On how he intended to handle the current controversy at the Supreme Court, he said, “There is no controversy in the Supreme Court. We are one with the Chief Justice. That’s why you heard the president say His Lordship is disengaging on the grounds of ill-health. No controversy. We’re one.”

Asked about the welfare issues raised in the letter addressed to the former CJN, Ariwoola explained, “It was an internal memo of the court. It was not a petition. It was not a letter. It was addressed by the brother Justices of the Chief Justice and presented to him, His Lordship, directly. There were issues to be resolved amongst justices.”

Prodded further on whether those issues would be resolved under his leadership, Ariwoola  said, “Yeah, we’ve started resolving it.”

A Glance at Ariwoola’s Profile

Until his swearing-in yesterday as acting CJN, Ariwoola was the second most senior justice on the bench of the Supreme Court. Born on August 22, 1954, the Oyo State-born justice has been on the bench of the apex court for nearly 11 years, since his appointment on November 22, 2011.

A 1980 law graduate of the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile Ife, Ariwoola was called to the Nigeria bar and enrolled at the Supreme Court of Nigeria as a Solicitor and Advocate in July 1981.

Before his elevation to the apex court, he was a justice of the Court of Appeal between 2005 and 2011, after he was elevated from the State High Court of Oyo State. He was first appointed a Judge of Superior Court of record in Oyo State in 1992, from private legal practice.

The new CJN started his educational career at his hometown, Iseyin, at the Local Authority Demonstration School, Oluwole, in Iseyin Local government Area of Oyo State between 1959 and 1967. He was at the Muslim Modern School in the same town between 1968 and 1969, before proceeding to Ansar-Ud-Deen High School, Saki, in Oyo North, Oyo State.

He started his career as a State Counsel on National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) at the Ministry of Justice, Akure, and, later, as Legal Officer in the Ministry of Justice, Oyo State, until 1988, when he voluntarily left the State Civil Service for private practice.

He had worked as Counsel-in-Chambers of Chief Ladosu Ladapo, SAN, between October 1988 and July 1989, when he established Olukayode Ariwoola & Co, a firm of legal practitioners and consultants, in Oyo town in August 1989, from where he was appointed in November 1992 as a Judge of Oyo State Judiciary.

He had served both as chairman and member of various boards and tribunals.

Ariwoola was Chairman, Board of Directors, Phonex Motors Limited, one of Oodua Investment conglomerates, between 1988 and 1992; and Chairman, Armed Robbery Tribunal, Oyo State, between May 1993 and September 1996, when he was posted out of the capital, Ibadan, to Saki High Court.

Ariwoola also served on the election tribunals in Zamfara and Enugu states in 1999. He served on the election appeal courts in Port Harcourt, Enugu, Benin, Yola, and Ilorin at various times.

Before his elevation to the Supreme Court, his lordship served as Justice of Court of Appeal in Kaduna, Enugu and Lagos Divisions. He is also a fellow of International Dispute Resolution Institute (FIDRI), having been inducted in Dubai, U.A.E in 2014.

He has attended many international and national conferences and workshops in France, USA, UK, and the UAE.

Ariwoola is married with children.

NBA Links Muhammad’s Resignation to Frosty Relations With Colleagues

The leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said Muhammad’s resignation could not be divorced from recent protests by his colleagues on the bench of the apex court over unpleasant conditions.

A statement by NBA President, Mr Olumide Akpata, said while acknowledging the cordial working relationship between the Bar and the Bench during Muhammad’s tenure, “It is, however, impossible to consider His Lordship’s retirement in isolation of the recent unprecedented developments at the Supreme Court, where 14 Justices of the Court censured the outgone Chief Justice of Nigeria over His Lordship’s handling of their welfare and related issues.”

Akpata added, “Beyond this, there is near universal agreement that public confidence in the judiciary and, indeed, the legal profession is at an all-time low.”

NBA stated that there was now, more than ever, the need for urgent reforms in the judiciary in order to rebuild the almost dissipated confidence of Nigerians in the judiciary and the wider legal profession in Nigeria. It added that such should form the immediate first tasks for Ariwoola, as he took over the helm of affairs at the apex court.

Akpata stated, “The NBA welcomes the appointment of Justice Olukayode Ariwoola and pledges its readiness to work together with His Lordship and the judiciary in cleansing the Augean Stable and addressing the ills that have continued to plague, not just the judiciary, but the entire legal profession.”

Atiku Commends Ex-CJN, Makinde Congratulates Successor

Presidential candidate of PDP for the 2023 general election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, commended the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, for his service to Nigeria, especially, his decision to vacate office.

In a statement from his media office, Atiku said, “I wish him well even as I commend him for his action and service to the nation.”

On the new CJN, Atiku said, “I wish the newly sworn in acting CJN, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, success as he steps in to fill the gap and assure him of my commitment to advancing the frontiers of judicial independence and the promotion of separation of powers as the bedrock of deepening democracy and development.”

On his part, Oyo State Governor ‘Seyi Makinde congratulated Ariwoola on his elevation and swearing-in as acting Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Makinde described Ariwoola’s elevation as deserving and a reward for diligence, patriotism and service to the nation.

A statement by Special Assistant (Print Media) to the governor, Moses Alao, quoted Makinde as saying he has no doubt that the jurist would restore the glory of the apex court and the judiciary.

Makinde stated, “I congratulate a noble son of Oyo State, His Lordship, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, on his elevation and swearing-in as Chief Justice of Nigeria, in acting capacity. This elevation comes as a deserving development, a well-deserved promotion that comes after decades of hard work, diligence, patriotism and forthrightness in the judiciary.

“I have no doubt that the new Acting CJN will turn around the fortunes of the judiciary and the apex court for good by bringing his wealth of experience to bear in restoring the glory of the judiciary. On behalf of the good people and government of Oyo State, I celebrate Justice Ariwoola and pray to God to grant him the needed enablement to succeed in the new office.”

In a similar vein, the Aseyin of Iseyin, Oba Abdul-Ganiy Adekunle, and the people of Iseyin community in Oyo State hailed the appointment of Ariwoola as acting CJN. The traditional ruler told newsmen in Ibadan that Ariwoola’s elevation to the new position was due to years of dedication and brilliant legal service.

Adekunle said Ariwoola’s achievement would go into the history of the ancient town that, “One of its sons has made a remarkable accomplishment in the legal and judicial system during his reign as the Aseyin of Iseyin.”

Adekunle stated, “Today, I am so happy about this development of the elevation of Justice Olukayode Ariwoola to the esteemed apex position in the judiciary, which is the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).

“He has made history as the first son of Oyo State, Oke-Ogun and Iseyin to attain this feat. I wish every youth of today would take after this achievement, which is a product of years of legal toil, dedication to the legal career and a brilliant legal sojourn.

“Now, I can say that during my own time, Iseyin has been, again, put in the mouths of people around the world.”

Equally, the Iseyin Development Union (IDU) said the union was proud and happy about Ariwoola’s appointment as acting CJN.

In a statement by its National President, Alhaji Bayo Raji, the union said, Ariwoola’s achievement would serve as “a veritable point of reference to guide future leaders”.

He prayed God to guide him to be able to deliver justice with the fear of God, and maintain the rule of law, equity and good conscience in his new judicial endeavours.

“On behalf of Kabiyesi, the Aseyin of Iseyin, Oba AbdulGaniy Adekunle, and all sons and daughters of Iseyin, both at home and in the Diaspora, we hereby congratulate our father, elder and a great son of Iseyin and, indeed Nigeria, Justice Kayode Ariwoola, the acting Chief Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, on his elevation to the exalted position,” Raji stated.

Source: This Day Live

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