The succession battle for the plum position of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court has begun as the incumbent; Justice Abdul Adamu Kafarati retires about the end of June.
Since the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, elevation to the headship of federal judiciary has always been ‘turbulent’ because of the perceived corruption within the third arm of government.
For instance, Justice Kafarati’s appointment as CJ was confirmed after he had served in an acting capacity for nine (9) months.
Justice Kafarati assumed office as acting CJ September 17, 2017 following President Buhari’s failure to forward his name to the Senate ahead Justice Auta’s end of tenure, as required by section 250 (4) of the constitution.
Three months after, he was first sworn in as acting CJ, Justice Kafarati’s appointment was renewed by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen December, 2017.
This second appointment in acting capacity expired March 2018, after which the president then forwarded Kafarati’s name to the Senate on June 5, 2018.
Eventually, President Buhari forwarded Justice Kafarati’s name to the Senate on June 5, 2018, where his appointment was confirmed by the committee on judiciary and human rights.
Justice Kafarati, who was born on June 29, 1954 and hails from Kwami in Gombe state, will bow out of the judiciary on 29 June, 2019, when he would have turned 65 years, the mandatory retirement age for high court judges in the country.
The outgoing CJ took over from Justice Ibrahim Auta, who retired in September 2017 after clocking 65 years, and was appointed judge on October 31, 1990.
According to Section 250. (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, “the appointment of a person to the office of Chief Judge of the Federal High Court shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.”
Therefore, going by the long tradition of seniority in the judiciary, the next most senior judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho and the third in line, Justice Cecilia Moji Olaturegun of the Lagos Division of the High Court have been cleared and nominated by the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) to the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“In line with the enduring tradition of seniority in the judiciary, the FJSC has cleared and nominated Justice John Tsoho, the next most senior judge of the Federal High Court and the third in line, Justice Cecilia Moji Olaturegun,” a source said.
Similarly, another impeccable source at the NJC who pleaded anonymity told our correspondent that the council was in receipt of the names of the two nominees from the FJSC for possible appointment as CJ to replace the retiring Justice Kafarati by month end.
“The NJC has received the names of Justice Tsoho and Justice Olaturegun from the FJSC. The council met last Monday, June 10 and set up a committee to consider the two nominees for the CJ position of the Federal High Court,” the source further revealed.
In view of the bumpy nature of ascension to the court’s leadership in recent times, some Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) have expressed optimism that Justice Tsoho would get a smooth sail to the throne of the Federal High Court, owing to his “pedigree of integrity and sound knowledge of the law.”
“My Lord, Justice Tsoho will make a good CJ because he is a man of integrity and erudition. His appointment will be seamless,” a SAN who did not want to be named in print told our correspondent.
“Justice Tsoho has never been involved in any scandal in or outside the judiciary. He is also a judex of immeasurable knowledge of the law. So, he will have a smooth ride to headship of the court,” another top lawyer who spoke under anonymity said.
Speaking on Buhari’s tardiness in approving the appointment of heads of the judiciary, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, hinged the president’s disposition on his avowed determination to rid the judiciary of judicial officers with corrupt tendencies.
“You know fighting corruption has been one of President Buhari’s major campaign promises. And with the endemic corruption in the country’s judiciary, he had to start from there. That was why he was tardy in approving the appointment of the sacked CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
“So, it is all in a bid to clean up the judicial arm of government of the rot it had enmeshed itself in before the Buhari-led administration.
“However, I am certain that Justice Tsoho will be appointed as CJ without any delay, due to his integrity and austere lifestyle as well as his sound knowledge of the law. These are necessary criteria for the appointment of judicial officers, especially to the headship of courts”, the SAN who also spoke on condition of anonymity said.