During his valedictory court session marking his retirement from the Supreme Court bench, former Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Muhammad Datijo, emphasized the urgent need to curtail the powers of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) to prevent potential abuses.
He pinpointed the negative perception of the judiciary, linking it to the politicized appointments of judicial officers, which, he claimed, have been influenced by political, selfish, and sectional interests.
Justice Datijo expressed concerns about the extensive powers concentrated in the office of the CJN, who chairs the National Judicial Commission, Federal Judicial Service Commission, National Judicial Institute, and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee. He argued that such absolute powers could lead to corruption, stating, “A person with absolute powers, it is said, corrupts easily and absolutely.” He stressed the necessity of sharing these oversight functions to prevent abuse.
He said, “My considered opinion: the oversight functions of these bodies should not rest on an individual alone. A person with absolute powers, it is said, corrupts easily and absolutely. “As chair of the NJC, FJSC, NJI, and LPPC, appointments as council, board, and commitment members are at his pleasure. He neither confers with fellow justices nor seeks their counsel or input on any matter related to these bodies; he has both the final and the only say.”
“The CJN has the power to appoint 80 per cent of members of the council and 60 per cent of members of FJSC. The same applies to NJI and LPPC.” He said such enormous powers “are effortlessly abused”. “This needs to change. Continued denial of the existence of this threatening anomaly weakens effective judicial oversight in the country.”
”Appropriate steps could have been taken earlier to fill outstanding vacancies in the apex court. “Why have these steps not been timeously taken? It is evident that the decision not to fill the vacancies in the court is deliberate. It is all about the absolute powers vested in the office of the CJN and the responsible exercise of the same,” he added.
Justice Datijo highlighted the departure from a merit-based appointment system he witnessed in the past, advocating for a return to a system where appointments are made based on integrity, knowledge of the law, honor, and hard work.
With his retirement reducing the number of Supreme Court Justices to 10, leaving two regions of the country unrepresented, Justice Datijo expressed concern about the deliberate depletion of justices, pointing out that this reduction was not accidental.
In response, Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, assured the public that efforts were underway to appoint more justices to the Supreme Court bench. He acknowledged the pressing need to augment their ranks, emphasizing their commitment to bolstering the court’s capacity and efficiency.