The resignation, yesterday, of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, was a result of high-level intrigues, which were long planned but executed Sunday night, multiple sources familiar with the power game told Daily Trust yesterday.
Reliable sources said that contrary to the thinking that Muhammad resigned on his own accord, he was actually forced to do so by a high-level team of security and senior government officials.
Following Muhammad’s resignation, President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday swore in Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, the second in the Supreme Court ranking, as the acting CJN.
Indications that all was not well emerged Monday morning with the absence of the ex-CJN who was billed to speak at the opening programme of the training on alternative dispute resolution for judges at the National Judicial Institute (NJI) in Abuja.
Muhammad failed to appear at the function without prior notice and did not send a representative.
His aides said they were not in the know of any resignation until that morning.
However, some sources claimed he was directed to appear in the Villa where he was handed a letter to sign for his resignation.
It was gathered that the move to get Muhammad out of his seat was planned long ago and was spearheaded by a senior cabinet official and head of a security establishment. They also co-opted senior officials of the National Judicial Council (NJC) in the plan.
A source at the NJC said the plan was hatched late last year but was put on hold until after the retirement of Justice Mary Odili who could have only served as the CJN for less than a year had Muhammad resigned before she left.
The idea was said to have been hinged on the ex-CJN’s deteriorating health condition.
A senior advocate of Nigeria, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the ex-CJN was forced to resign on two grounds – the letter collectively written against him by 14 Supreme Court justices, and “certain issues of financial impropriety.”
He said there was the veiled issue of ill-health, which has long been known by many judicial stakeholders but the ex-CJN was left to continue in the position till December 2023, when he was due to retire.
“His condition became so obvious when his supporting staff were behind most of the correspondences, which they preface with ‘I have been directed’,” he said.
‘Removal finalised overnight’
Another source close to the ex-CJN, who craved anonymity, said Muhammad was fetched from his house Sunday night to an unknown destination.
“On arrival, he was presented with a letter of resignation and they demanded that he signed the letter. He was told it was from the president and he obliged them based on that. He was not allowed to make any consultation, including even with his family,” he said.
But another source at the Supreme Court said Muhammad had suffered serious health challenges making it difficult to perform his day-to-day functions, including sitting on cases and attending to files.
He said the situation was partly responsible for the crisis in the court, which led to the letter recently leaked by the 14 judges.
“During the past Ramadan, the president invited members of the Judiciary to the Villa for breaking of fast but he (Muhammad) scheduled a visit to Kaduna State at the same time, and when he was reminded, he said he was not aware though he was earlier told,” the source said.
14 justices of the Supreme Court had in a recent letter on June 21, which Justice Muhammad was forced to react to, accused him of failing to properly administer the apex court.
“Your Lordship with all due respect, this is the peak of the degeneration of the court; it is the height of decadence, and clear evidence of the absence of probity and moral rectitude,” they wrote.
“Your Lordship, this act alone portends imminent danger to the survival of this court and the judiciary as an institution, which is gradually drifting to extinction.”
Reacting to the report, the spokesman for the former CJN, Ahuruaka Isah said the issues were not brought to his knowledge in his capacity as the spokesperson.
He, however, confirmed that the ex-CJN was customarily supposed to be at the NJI event on Monday before the unanticipated development.
Justice Muhammad was elevated to the Supreme Court in 2006 but was sworn in on 7 January 2007 from where he was appointed CJN by President Muhammadu Buhari on February 25, 2019, following the removal of Justice Walter Onnoghen over allegations of false asset declaration.
Born on 31 December 1953 at Doguwa-Giade Local Government Area of Bauchi State, he attended Government Secondary School, Azare where he obtained the West Africa School Certificate in 1973 before he later proceeded to Ahmadu Bello University where he received an LL. B degree in Islamic law in 1980. He later obtained an LL.M degree and a PhD in law from the same university in 1985 and 1998 respectively.
Justice Ariwoola sworn in as acting CJN
President Buhari has congratulated the acting CJN, Justice Ariwoola, who was sworn in around 3 pm on Monday.
The president also conferred on the outgoing CJN with the national honour of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).
Justice Ariwoola will act as CJN pending the time his name will be forwarded to the Senate by the president for confirmation as substantive CJN.
The acting CJN was accompanied to the ceremony by some justices of the Supreme Court.
Ariwoola becomes the third individual to occupy the top judiciary job of the country in the life of this administration.
While speaking at the event, President Buhari said he administered the judicial oath for Ariwoola to act as Chief Justice of Nigeria pursuant to Section 231(4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as nature abhorred a vacuum after the resignation of Justice Tanko on health grounds.
He said as Nigeria was approaching a critical general election in 2023, the judiciary must not do anything to fail the citizens.
The president also admonished the justices of the Supreme Court to always remain faithful and bear true allegiance to Nigeria, and to remain committed to the oath of allegiance to which they all subscribed to.
Buhari assured of his administration’s commitment “To ensuring the independence of the judiciary and will not do anything nor take any steps to undermine your independence.”
The president commended Justice Tanko for his contributions to Nigeria’s judiciary, the strengthening of its democracy and national development.
He said: “Ordinarily, he 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, Muhammed 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.
“Nigeria’s Judiciary under the leadership of Chief Justice of Nigeria Tanko Muhammed 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,” he said.
I’ll not fail Nigeria – New CJN
Meanwhile, Ariwoola has promised that the judiciary under him shall not fail Nigerians with the support of his colleagues.
According to him, “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 would address the controversy in the Supreme Court, the acting CJN said: “There is no controversy in the Supreme Court. We are one with the chief justice. That is why you heard the president say His Lordship, is disengaging on the grounds of ill-health. No controversy, we are one.”
Asked about the welfare issues highlighted in the letter addressed to the former CJN, he said: “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.”
Asked if those issues would be resolved under his leadership, he said: “Yeah, we have started resolving it.”
Brief on new CJN
Appointed to the Supreme Court bench on November 22, 2011, Justice Ariwoola was in the Court of Appeal from November 22, 2005, to 2011 after joining the Oyo State High Court on November 2, 1992.
Born on August 22, 1958, to the Ariwoola family of Iseyin, Oyo State, Ariwoola attended Local Authority Demonstration School, Oluwole in Iseyin Local Government between 1959 and 1967. He attended Muslim Modern School, Iseyin (1968-69), and Ansar-Ud-Deen Secondary School, Shaki, from where he proceeded to the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, and graduated with honours in 1980. He was called to the Nigeria bar in 1981, having attended the Nigerian Law School, Lagos.
We’ll help cleanse the Augean stable – NBA assures acting CJN
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has pledged to assist the acting CJN Justice Olukayode Ariwoola and the judiciary to cleanse the Augean Stable and address the ills that have continued to plague not just the judiciary but the entire legal profession.
A statement signed by the President of the NBA, Olumide Akpata on Monday, said the first task before the acting CJN was to restore public confidence in the judiciary.
“There is now more than ever the need for urgent reforms in the judiciary and to rebuild the almost dissipated confidence that Nigerians have in the judiciary and the wider legal profession in Nigeria,” he said.
He wished the former CJN Muhammad quick recovery from his ill health.
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