Barristers & Solicitors
Atiku, Obi Appeals raise concern over S’Court cases
Tinubu, Atiku,Obi

Senior lawyers have raised concerns that ongoing cases at the Supreme Court will suffer delay during the 60-day period that the presidential election appeal will last.

This is because of shortage of justices at the apex court following non-replacement of retired justices.

The Supreme Court is constitutionally required to have a full complement of 21 justices. But currently, there are only 11 justices.

The latest to bow out of the Supreme Court is Justice Amina Augie, who turned 70 on September 3.

Following their failure to upturn the February 25 election victory of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu at the Presidential Election Petitions Court (PEPC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Atiku Abubakar and his  Labour Party (LP) counterpart Peter Obi are set to appeal their judicial losses.

They have tomorrow as deadline, 14 days after the September 6 judgment by the PEPC to file their appeals at the Supreme Court.

A panel of seven justices  of the Supreme Court will be constituted to hear the appeal, with this, there will be only four justices available to handle cases at the apex court because those engaged in the petitions will be busy with the matter for the 60-day constitutionally prescribed period.

The four justices will be inadequate to function because a minimum of five justices are required to seat on cases at the apex court

Another lawyer Festus Ogun noted that the 11 justices are inadequate to form two panels of the court, which may precipitate a crisis.

Ogun said: “We have 11… just 11. That means there is just one panel, and because it’s a constitutional matter, we must have not less than seven justices of the Supreme Court. That means you can’t have two panels. How are they going to do it?”//

The volume of work before the justices was made known last November, by Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Olukayode Ariwoola, who said there were  6,884 pending cases.

In June, the National Judicial Council (NJC) declared 10 additional slots on the Supreme Court bench vacant and called on interested applicants to apply.

A senior official of the apex court said no fewer that 11 individuals are currently undergoing the necessary screening/interview process to appoint new justices.

At the end of the screening, the NJC will make recommendations to the President.

The official said: “I assure you that within the next three weeks, new Justices will be unveiled for the Supreme Court.

“The process, which commenced earlier this year, was delayed by the court’s vacation. Now that the court is resuming, coupled with the concern being expressed by many, I assure you  that the process will be fast-tracked.

“Everyone knows the effect the current state of affairs will have on the court’s capacity to effectively function with only 11 Justices out of the 21 allowed by the Constitution.

“I assure you that the ongoing process will be concluded within the next few weeks. The only delay could be with the President, who will be required to seek the Senate’s confirmation, and the Senate, which will be required to confirm those recommended for appointment.”

The appointment process began in June, when  Justice  Ariwoola, in a notice, requested for nominations from the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), heads of courts and Justices of the Supreme Court.

In an email to lawyers on June 17, the NBA President, Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), confirmed receiving the CJN’s notice on June 16, requesting him to nominate suitably qualified candidates to be recommended for appointment to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”

In the email, Maikyau 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.

According to the CJN notice, the geo-political zones with openings are: Southeast (two); Southsouth (one); Southwest (two); Northcentral (two) and Northwest (one).

Lawyers insisted that the depletion of justices on the Supreme Court bench could spark a judicial crisis.

They warned that if, as expected, seven of the 11 justices are put on the panel, there will be only four justices left to hear the thousands of cases pending at the apex court.

Activist-lawyer Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) urged the National Judicial Council (NJC) to act fast and fill the vacancies.

He also implored the NJC to consider national spread, competence and gender parity, among others in making appointments.

Adegboruwa said: “I think it’s important that we look at the issue of geographical spread as stated under Section 14 of the Constitution.

“Now we have six geopolitical zones in Nigeria, I believe we should look at the ones that are presently there and the ones that are not represented and ensure there is quality representation in the appointment of justices for the Supreme Court.

“So, the National Judicial Council should also look at the request of the Nigerian Bar Association and the Body of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) to consider active legal practitioners who have made distinction and have reputation and integrity.”