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S’Court bench reduces to 11, as Appeal Court gets 9 new justices Wednesday

As the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, gets set to constitute the panel that will hear and finally determine all the petitions that are trailing the 2023 presidential election, the Supreme Court, will by Thursday, have its bench reduced to 11 justices.

This further depletion of the apex court bench, to an all time low, follows the retirement of Justice Amina Augie (Kebbi State).

Though Justice Augie clocked the 70 years mandatory retirement age on September 3, however, the court, in a statement it made available to newsmen on Sunday, disclosed that she would formally bow out of its bench on Thursday.

“The valedictory court session in her honour was delayed because of the annual vacation of the Court which just ended on Friday, 15th September, 2023,” the court added in the statement that was signed by its Director of Press & Information, Dr. Akande Festus.

Remarkably, the number of justices of the court unprecedentedly rose to 20 in November 2020, after President Muhammadu Buhari okayed the elevation of eight justices at a go.

Their appointment had sparked hope that the apex court would for the first time in history, attain the full complement of 22 justices as prescribed by Section 230 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

However, with the death of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta on March 7, 2021, about 23 days before to his retirement, and the retirement of Justice Rhodes-Vivour 14 days later, only 18 Justice were left on the apex court bench.

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Before their replacements could be appointed, Justice Samuel Oseji died on September 2021, aged 67, less than a year after his appointment to the Supreme Court.

Likewise, while Justice Mary Odili, who became the second most senior jurist of the court, retired on May 12, 2022, Justice Ejembi Eko also bowed out of active judicial service on May 23, 2022.

In a shocking move, the then CJN, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, voluntarily resigned his position in June, 2022, even as Justice Abdul Aboki retired on August 5, last year, thereby reducing the number of justices of the Supreme Court to 13.

Justice Chima Centus Nweze, who was the only Justice of the court from the South East region, died in Abuja, after a brief illness on July 29 this year.

As stakeholders demand urgent elevation of new justices in view of the mounting workload on the apex court, research by Vanguard revealed that whereas Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad will retire by October 27, the CJN, Justice Ariwoola, will equally exit the bench on December 31.

Other remaining justices on the apex court bench, are; Kudirat Motomori Kekere-Ekun (to retire 2026), John Inyang Okoro (2029), Uwani Abba Aji (2026),  Garba Lawal (2028) and Helen Morenikeji Ogunwumiju (2027).

As well as; Ibrahim Saulawa (2026), Adamu Jauro (2029), Tijjani Abubakar (2030) and Emmanuel Agim (2030).

By the combined provisions of paragraphs 13 (a) & 21 (a) of the 3rd Schedule Part 1, of the Constitution, the National Judicial Council, NJC, upon the advice of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC, has the statutory power to nominate and recommend the appointment of justices of the Supreme Court to President Bola Tinubu.

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Section 234 of the Constitution mandates the Supreme Court to hear cases in a panel of 5 or 7 justices.

Meanwhile, the court, in the statement it issued on Sunday, said the CJN would on Wednesday, swear in nine newly appointed justices of the Appeal Court.

“The Justices are: Hannatu Azumi Laja-Balogun from Kaduna State, who was appointed a High Court Judge on 24th May, 1999; Binta Fatima Zubairu from Kaduna State, appointed a High Court Judge on 31st October, 2001; and Peter Chudi Obiora from Anambra State, who was sworn-in as High Court Judge on 17th January, 2005, respectively.

“Others are Justices Okon Efreti Abang from Akwa Ibom State, who was appointed a High Court Judge on 22nd June, 2009; Asma’u Musa Mainoma from Federal Capital Territory, appointed High Court Judge on 1st February, 2013; Lateef Adebayo Ganiyu from Oyo State, who became High Court Judge on 26th June, 2014; and Jane Esienanwan Iyang from Cross River State, who was sworn-in as High Court Judge on 12th February, 2015.

“The rest are Justices Hadiza Rabiu Shagari from Sokoto State, who got elevation to the High Court Bench on 12th February, 2015; and Paul Ahmed Bassi from Borno State, appointed to the High Court on 14th July, 2017, respectively,” the statement read.

 

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