President Muhammadu Buhari has sworn-in Justice Olukayode Ariwoola as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, with a charge to the Judiciary not to fail the nation in the handling of disputes arising from the 2023 general elections.
The ceremony took place Monday at the State House Abuja.
The emergence of Ariwoola, the next most senior in the hierarchy of the Supreme Court, followed the resignation of CJN Justice Tanko Muhammed on health grounds.
The resignation of the 68-year-old Muhammad, came 18 months ahead of his official retirement December 2023, by which time he would have clocked 70.
Though he tendered his resignation on health ground, he might however not be unconnected with the leaked memo from his colleagues who accused him of poor handling of their welfare.
Ariwoola stepped in to inherit and seek ways out of the plethora of problems catalogued by the 14 Justices of the Supreme Court.
Buhari tasks judiciary
Speaking at the swearing-in ceremony held at the State House Abuja, President Buhari charged the Judiciary not to fail Nigerians while intervening in the electoral disputes arising from next year’s general elections.
Buhari said he had accepted Tanko’s resignation, considering the circumstances surrounding it even though he would have wished he stayed till statutory retirement time.
However, giving his admonition during the swearing-in ceremony for the Acting CJN, Buhari, who showered encomiums of the exiting CJN, assured the Judiciary of his continued respect for the principles of separation of powers, and commitment to ensuring the independence of the third arm of government.
“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.
“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”, he said.
The President also conferred the second highest national honour of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) on the former CJN, Muhammad during the ceremony.
In his acceptance speech, the new CJN assured he won’t fail Nigerians in his new task.
NBA hails appointment
Reacting to the development, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), called for urgent reforms and cleansing of the Augean Stables in Nigeria’s judiciary.
NBA President Olumide Akpata made the call Monday in a statement made available to Blueprint in Abuja.
The NBA said his first tasks should include taking steps aimed at “urgent reforms in the Judiciary” and rebuilding “the almost dissipated confidence that Nigerians have in the Judiciary and the wider legal profession in Nigeria.”
The apex legal body however commended the outgone CJN’s lengthy service to the nation, and wished him quick recovery.
The body of lawyers noted further that the CJN’s resignation could not be divorced from the raging crisis in the Supreme Court with the 14 other Justices of the court accusing him of poor handling of the affairs of the court.
“His Lordship’s retirement is not isolated from the recent unprecedented developments at the Supreme Court where 14 justices of the Court censured the out-gone Chief Justice of Nigeria over His Lordship‘s handling of their welfare and related issues,” the statement said.
Akpata said the association was “ready to work together with His Lordship (Mr. Ariwoola) 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.”
The statement reads in part: “The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has received the news of the resignation, on grounds of ill health, of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Dr Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR.
“We thank His Lordship for his lengthy service to the nation and wish him a quick recovery even as we pray for a well-deserved peaceful retirement. In the course of previous publications and communications, I have consistently appreciated the outgone Chief Justice of Nigeria for the cordial working relationship between the Bar and the Bench under our respective administrations. I must do so again today as he bows out. It is however impossible, to consider His Lordship’s retirement in isolation from the recent unprecedented developments at the Supreme Court where 14 justices of the Court censured the out-gone Chief Justice of Nigeria over His Lordship‘s handling of their welfare and related issues.
Also in another statement, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) said Muhammad’s resignation showed the judicial system was due for reform.
TMG Chairman, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, saluted Muhammad’s courage to resign, adding that it was time for the system to undergo fundamental restructuring.
Rafsanjani was quoted as saying, “once there is a reservation or allegation on the way they are handling things, and if they want to be clear for proper investigation, the best thing to do is to resign.
“In that context, I salute the courage that he demonstrated by resigning, just to ensure that there’s an opportunity to investigate. There’s also an opportunity to also provide a level-playing ground for the parties.”
Kinsmen laud Buhari
Also, thepeople of Iseyin, the hometown of the new CJN in Oyo state, congratulated Ariwoola on his elevation.
In a statement by its National President, Bayo Raji(SAN), the Iseyin Development Union (IDU) declared that IDU which represented the interest and aspirations of the people of the community “was proud and happy about the new CJN’s achievement as it would serve as a veritable point of reference to guide future leaders.”
“On behalf of Kabiyesi, the Aseyin of Iseyin, His Royal Highness, Oba AbdulGaniy Adekunle Salaudeen, Ajinese I 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 new Chief Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on his elevation to the exalted position”, he said.
“This is marvelous in our eyes, it is a well deserved and long awaited elevation and we are very happy about it, we pray to the Almighty Allah to always guide him in delivering Justice with the fear of God, while maintaining the Rule of Law, Equity and Good Conscience, the whole town and indeed Oke-Ogun and Oyo State in general are proud of you Sir,” the statement added.
Also, the Aseyin of Iseyin, Oba Abdul-Ganiy Salawudeen Adekunle told journalists in Ibadan that attributed the by Ariwoola’s elevation to years of toil, dedication and brilliant legal sojourn.
Oba Adekunle maintained that the achievements would go into the history of the ancient town that one of its sons made a remarkable accomplishment in the legal and judiciary system during his reign as the Aseyin of Iseyin.
“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 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 will take after this achievement which is a product of years of legal toil, dedication to the legal career and a brilliant legal sojourn by the new CJN. Now I can say that during my own time, Iseyin has been again put in the mouths of people around the world,” the monarch added.
Justice Ariwoola was born in Iseyin, Oyo state on August 22, 1958 and appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria 2011.
He was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court in 2011. Prior to that time, he was a Justice of the Court of Appeal between 2005 and 2011 after having been elevated from the Oyo State High Court.
Justice Ariwoola was first appointed a Judge of the Superior Court of record in Oyo State in 1992 from private legal practice.
Ariwoola started his education in his home town Iseyin at the Local Authority Demonstration School, Oluwole in Iseyin local government area of Oyo state between 1959 and 1967.
He was in the Muslim Modern School in the same town between 1968 and 1969 before proceeding to Ansar-Ud-Deen High School, Saki in Oyo North of Oyo State.
He studied law at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile Ife, Osun state, where he bagged his Bachelor of Laws degree with honours in July 1980.
He was called to the Nigeria bar and got enrolled at the Supreme Court of Nigeria as a Solicitor and Advocate soon thereafter.
Before his elevation to the Supreme Court, he served as Justice of the Court of Appeal in Kaduna, Enugu and Lagos Divisions.
He was appointed June 27, 2022, and awaiting Nigerian Senate’s approval as Chief Justice of Nigeria.
He is billed to retire by 2028.
The controversial letter
The aggrieved judges, led by the new CJN, listed the issues to include vehicles, electricity tariff, supply of diesel, Internet services to (Justices’) residences and chambers, and epileptic electricity supply to the court.
Confirming receiving the letter on June 21, the CJN lamented the leakage of the document to the public, noting that “Judges in all climes are to be seen and not heard”. Doing otherwise, he said, amounts “to dancing naked at the market square by us with the ripple effect of the said letter.”
The CJN denied any wrongdoing and did everything possible to meet the needs of the justices and the court as much as possible.
He noted that his colleagues’ accusations would amount to “utopian” if all the problems were expected to be tackled given the prevailing economic difficulties being faced in the country.
He, however, went on to the wide-ranging issues raised by his colleagues which he largely attributed to the “economic and socio-political climate prevailing in the country.”