CJN

The Nigerian polity has been set abuzz following the resignation of Justice Tanko Muhammad as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).

In his resignation letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, the 68-year-old justice cited ill-health as the reason for stepping down.

However, he resigned after 14 justices of the Supreme Court had accused him of maladministration and incompetence.

The justices, in a leaked internal memo, raised issues such as mismanagement of funds, poor condition of accommodation, vehicles for justices, supply of diesel, internet services to justices’ residences, training for justices and epileptic electricity supply to the court.

They accused Muhammad of receiving their demands without acting ‘after several persistent requests’ to hold a meeting which was finally held on 31 March, 2022.

One of the justices who signed the petition, Olukayode Ariwoola, has been sworn in as acting CJN as he is the most senior Supreme Court justice after Muhammad.

It was also learnt that the 14 justices sent a memo to the presidency, highlighting all of the former CJN’s financial dealings, and threatening that they would stop sitting from September 2022 if he was not removed.

The Human Rights Writer’s Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) had swiftly called on the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to probe the corruption allegations levelled against him. HURIWA also insisted that Muhammad should step down as chairman of the NJC.

‘The NJC, the CCT and the National must swiftly probe the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad. The corruption allegations levelled against him are too weighty to be ignored considering the fact that these are allegations from Supreme Court justices’, HURIWA’s statement read.

In his response, the now-former CJN, in a statement issued by his spokesman, Isa Ahuraka, denied the allegations and instead blamed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic for the lack of funds, which has affected the operations of the apex court.

However, following Muhammad’s resignation, President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Akpata, said, ‘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’.

Muhammad’s predecessor, Justice Walter Onnoghen, also faced corruption allegations before he was unceremoniously forced into early retirement by President Buhari in 2019.

The impropriety and administrative inefficiency levelled against Justice Muhammad should not be swept under the carpet.

As the NBA president said, public confidence in the judiciary is at an ‘all time low’ in Nigeria and reforms are urgently needed.

It is therefore incumbent on the relevant authorities, including the National Judicial Council (NJC), to look into the allegations raised by his colleagues, especially on issues of mismanagement of resources.

Photo source: State House

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