NJC Declares More Vacancies on Supreme Court Bench, Redistributes Slots to Regions

NJC Declares More Vacancies on Supreme Court Bench, Redistributes Slots to Regions

Alex Enumah in Abuja with agency report

The Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, has declared two additional slots on the Supreme Court bench vacant, bringing the total number of vacancies up for grabs to 10.
The CJN’s previous vacancy notice had declared only eight seats and commenced the process of appointing the justices to bring the court to its full complement of 21 justices.

The number of judges dropped from 20 in November 2020 to 13 in August 2022.
This shortfall has led to a mounting workload for the available judges.
The proposed appointment of 10 new justices to the existing 13 justices will bring the number of judges to 23, which is higher than the full complement of 21 judges.

It is believed that the NJC declared two extra vacancies in anticipation of the imminent retirement of two of the existing 13 justices before the end of the year.
Justice Amina Augie from Kebbi State in the North-west, who is currently the sixth in the hierarchy on the bench, will clock the retirement age of 70 on September 3, 2023.

Also, Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad, who hails from Niger State in the North-central, and is currently behind the CJN as the second most senior judge of the court, will also bow out on October 27.
In an email seen by Premium Times, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Yakubu Maikyau, disclosed in an email on Thursday that he had received a fresh notice from the CJN raising the number of vacancies from eight to 10.

The Justices of the Supreme Court and the President of the Court of Appeal also received the CJN’s updated call for nomination.
Maikyau said in his mail to lawyers that he received Ariwoola’s fresh letter dated June 19, “which superseded the earlier letter of June 14, 2023,” requesting him “as President of the Nigerian Bar Association, to nominate suitably qualified candidates to be recommended for appointment to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”
According to the NBA president, the available slots are now open to qualified candidates from all six geo-political zones.

This development has thrown one slot open to the North-east region that was excluded in the previous announcement.
In the notice, the vacant slots were allocated to the geopolitical zones as South-east (two); South-south (one); South-west (one); North-central (three); North-east (one) and North-west (two).

CJN also redistributed the available slots to the country’s six geopolitical zones to correct the lopsidedness in regional representation that would have resulted from the previous plan.
In the previous notice, two slots were declared open to each of the South-east, the South-west, and the North-central, while one each was allotted to the South-south and the North-west.

However, no slot was given to the North-east.
While Justice Augie and Justice Muhammad are still on board, there is an imbalance in regional representation on the apex court bench.
Currently, South-west has three slots on the bench; South-south, two; and South-east, one. While the North-central has one, the North-west and the North-east have three each.

However, this will change by the time Justice Augie and Justice Muhammad leave in September and October, respectively.
The implication is that without any addition to the bench, by the end of October, the North-central will have no representative on the Supreme Court bench, while the North-west’s slots will drop to two.

In his latest letter, the NBA president restated his previous call on lawyers who are qualified and interested in the Supreme Court appointment to submit their applications at the NBA secretariat in Abuja on 26 June.
The call is to draw in lawyers to compete with Justices of the Court of Appeal for whom the Supreme Court bench is traditionally reserved as their only opportunity of career progression.

In the history of Nigeria, only Teslim Elias and Augustine Nnamani have had the opportunity to rise directly from the bar to the Supreme Court bench.
The NBA tried to re-enact this feat, the most publicised of such efforts, in 2017, but the plan failed to sail through.

Under the current Nigerian constitution, lawyers with at least 15 years of call to the Nigerian bar are eligible to be appointed directly from the bar to the Supreme Court bench. The provision also makes them eligible for appointment directly to the office of the CJN.

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