Following the dwindling number of Supreme Court justices, the National Judicial Council (NJC) has started the process of appointing eight new ones to fill the apex court’s severely depleted bench, THISDAY has learnt.
In line with this development, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), in an email he addressed to lawyers on Friday, urged interested and suitably qualified lawyers from the regions with openings on the Supreme Court bench to submit their expression of interest to the NBA secretariat in Abuja on or before 21 June.
NJC is expected to fill the apex court’s bench to its full complement of 21 justices – a feat the court has never attained.
The number of judges at the apex court reduced to 13 since August last year, thus overstretching the judges with an increasing workload.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, in September 2022, lamented how the dwindling number of justices had worsened the court’s workload.
According to Premium Times, Justice Ariwoola, as the Head of the NJC, has sent notices for the nominations of candidates to fill available slots on the court’s bench.
NJC will process the nominations into a shortlist.
The body will then assess and interview the candidates, and send the list of successful ones to President Bola Tinubu for appointment, which is subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Among those that have received the CJN’s requests for nominations in the preliminary stage of the appointment process are the NBA, heads of courts, and judges of the Supreme Court.
NBA President, Maikyau (SAN) in an email he addressed to lawyers on Friday, confirmed receiving the CJN’s notice on 16 June 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.”
Maikyau in his email, urged interested and suitably qualified lawyers from the regions with openings on the Supreme Court bench to submit their expression of interest to the NBA secretariat in Abuja on or before 21 June.
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 available slots on a regional basis are South-east (two); South-south (one); South-west (two); North-central (two) and North-west (one). Only the North-east, among Nigeria’s six geo-political zones, is said not to have a vacant slot currently.
Though Supreme Court appointments are done to ensure regional spread, there is always disparity in the number of representatives of the six regions on the bench of the various courts due to retirements, and deaths which do not follow any particular order.
With the current make-up of the Supreme Court bench, the South-west has three slots, South-south two; and South-east one. While the North-central has one, the North-west and the North-east have three each.
If all the vacant slots are filled, it will end up giving South-west five slots on the Supreme Court bench, South-south, four, and South-east three.
The North-west will also occupy five slots and North-central, three. The representatives of the North-east on the bench will remain three.
In response to then-acting CJN, Walter Onnoghen’s request for a similar exercise in 2017, the NBA then led by Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), had forwarded the names of nine lawyers for appointment as Justices of the Supreme Court.
The NBA’s nominees were: former President of the NBA, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Anthony Ikemefuna Idigbe (SAN), Yunus Ustas Usman (SAN), Babatunde Fagbohunlu (SAN), Miannaya Aja Essien (SAN), Awa Uma Kalu (SAN), Awalu Hamish Yadudu, Tajudeen Oladoja and Ayuba Giwa.
However, the attempts to have lawyers appointed to the Supreme Court bench did not succeed.
The latest call by Maikyau for lawyers to indicate interest is the latest in the series.
Current Supreme Court judges and the geopolitical zones they represent are CJN Ariwoola, Oyo State (South-west); Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad – Niger State (North-central); Justice Kudirat Motonmori Olatokunbo Kekere-Ekun – Lagos State (South-west); Justice John Inyang Okoro – Akwa Ibom State (South-south); Justice Chima Centus Nweze – Enugu State (South-east); Justice Amina Adamu Augie – Kebbi (North-west); and Justice Uwani Musa Abba Aji – Yobe State (North-east).
Others include Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba – Zamfara State (North-west); Justice Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumiju – Ondo State (South-west) Justice M.M. Saulawa – Katina State (North-west); Justice Adamu Jauro – Gombe State (North-east); Justice Tijjani Abubakar – Yobe State (North-east); and Justice Emmanuel Akomaye Agim– Cross River State (South-south).
Alex Enumah in Abuja with agency report