President Muhammadu Buhari has sworn in Justice Olukayode Ariwoola as the acting chief justice of Nigeria (CJN) following the resignation of Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad on health grounds.
The short ceremony was held at the Council Chambers of the State House, Abuja, yesterday.
The president, who praised Tanko for his contributions, also conferred on him the national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), the second highest such award in the country.
President Buhari urged the Judiciary not to fail Nigerians so that the citizens do not lose confidence in them.
He said, “Today, I received a letter from the Honourable Justice Dr. I. Tanko Muhammad, CFR, resigning his position as Chief Justice of Nigeria and chairman of the National Judicial Council, on health grounds. The resignation is to take immediate effect.
“CJN Tanko was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2006, sworn in on the 8th of January, 2007, and became the Chief Justice of Nigeria in acting capacity on 25th January, 2019.
“He became the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria and chairman, National Judicial Council, on Wednesday, 24th July, 2019.”
According to the president, the former CJN was scheduled to retire from the Supreme Court on December 31, 2023, but ill-health had cut short his tenure as the head of the country’s judiciary.
Buhari further said Nigeria’s Judiciary under the leadership of Tanko Muhammad witnessed several landmark, jurisprudential and policy decisions by the Supreme Court, and by extension other Courts established by the Constitution, including dealing firmly with the issue of reckless and indiscriminate granting of ex-parte orders.
According to him, history will be kind to Justice Muhammad for his modest contributions to Nigeria’s judiciary, the strengthening of democracy and national development.
“In line with the custom of decorating Chief Justices of Nigeria with the second highest national honour of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), and upon the advice of the Council of State in that regard, as his Lordship CJN I. Tanko Muhammad is taking a bow from the Supreme Court, I hereby bestow on him the National Honour of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).”
The president reiterated his administration’s commitment to ensuring the independence of the Judiciary and in upholding the constitutional provisions on the rule of law and the principles of separation of powers.
He went on: “In the circumstances, and as nature abhors a vacuum, I hereby invite Honourable Olukayode Ariwoola, JSC, being the next most Senior Justice of the Supreme Court, to come forward to take the Judicial Oath as Chief Justice of Nigeria in an acting capacity, pursuant to Section 231(4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
He admonished the justices of the Supreme Court to always remain faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and not to do anything to fail ordinary
Nigerians which may make them lose confidence in the Judiciary ahead of the 2023 polls.
Meanwhile, speaking to State House correspondents, Ariwoola gave the assurance that he would not fail Nigerians in his new assignment.
He said, “What Nigerians expect from me is to comply, preserve and abide and protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And so be it. That is what I will do especially with the cooperation of my brother Justices of the Supreme Court. We shall not fail Nigerians.”
On how he intends to handle the controversy in the Supreme Court, he said: “There is no controversy in the Supreme Court. We are one with the Chief Justice. That’s why you heard the President say His Lordship is disengaging on the grounds of ill-health. No controversy, we’re one.”
Asked about the welfare issues raised in the letter addressed to the former CJN, he said: “It was an internal memo of the court. It was not a petition. It was not a letter. It was addressed by the brother Justices of the Chief Justice and presented to him, His Lordship, directly. They were issues to be resolved amongst justices.”
Asked if those issues would be resolved under his leadership, he said: “Yeah, we’ve started resolving them.”
NBA Asks New CJN To Reform Judiciary
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has said the resignation of the immediate past CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, may not be unconnected with the protest letter written by 14 Supreme Court justices last week.
The former CJN resigned on Sunday night, citing health challenges.
The justices had complained about negligence to their welfare by the former CJN, whereas he and his family members were enjoying some advantages denied his peers at the apex court.
The NBA President, Olumide Akpata, said the association received the news of His resignation on grounds of ill health and wished him quick recovery.
He said, “In the course of previous publications and communications, I have consistently appreciated the outgone Chief Justice of Nigeria for the cordial working relationship between the Bar and the Bench under our respective administrations. I must do so again today as he bows out.
“It is however impossible to consider His Lordship’s retirement in isolation of the recent unprecedented developments at the Supreme Court where 14 Justices of the Court censured the outgone Chief Justice of Nigeria over His Lordship’s handling of their welfare and related issues.
“Beyond this, there is near universal agreement that public confidence in the Judiciary and indeed the legal profession is at an all-time low.
“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.”
According to the lawyers’ body, these should form the immediate tasks the new CJN should address.
The NBA pledged its readiness to collaborate with the new CJN and the Judiciary “in cleansing the Augean Stable and addressing the ills that have continued to plague not just the Judiciary but the entire legal profession.”
Meanwhile, a source at Apex Court who pleaded for anonymity said that Justice Muhammad’s resignation was a soft landing for him to cover up the corruption allegation levelled against him by his fellow Justices of the Court.
“I can tell you categorically that no one saw this coming before now, as there was no sign of the CJN resigning before now, until the allegation of corruption raised against him by the other 14 Justices of the Court.
“His resignation at a time like this is nothing but a soft landing for him. This is because the issue of the accusation levelled against him was very heavy as the 14 Justices who wrote the petitions are insisting that he should be probed.”
According to the source, all efforts to resolve the issue without leaking it to the public were abortive as the concerned justices were not ready to back out without getting to the root of the matter.
” His resignation will at least douse the tension which is already rising in the nation’s Judiciary,” he said.
Ariwoola’s Elevation, Reward For Diligence, Patriotism – Makinde
Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde, has described the elevation of Justice Olukayode Ariwoola and his swearing-in as the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari as a deserving development and reward for diligence, patriotism and service to the nation.
The governor, while congratulating the new CJN, described the Iseyin-born Ariwoola’s elevation as acting CJN as well deserved and said that he had no doubt that the jurist would restore the glory of the apex court and the judiciary.
“I congratulate a noble son of Oyo State, His Lordship, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, on his elevation and swearing-in as Chief Justice of Nigeria, in acting capacity.
“This elevation comes as a deserving development, a well-deserved promotion that comes after decades of hard work, diligence, patriotism and forthrightness in the judiciary.
“On behalf of the good people and government of Oyo State, I celebrate Justice Ariwoola and pray to God to grant him the needed enablement to succeed in the new office,” he said.
I Wish You Well, Atiku Tells Ex-CJN Justice Muhammad
The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, yesterday sent his compliments to the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, on vacating.
The PDP candidate, who hailed the immediate past-CJN for deciding to vacate office, commended the former leader of the Nigerian judiciary for his action and service to the nation.
He however urged the newly sworn-in acting CJN Justice Olukayode Ariowoola to fill the gaps in the judicial system.
Atiku, in a statement by his media office, said, “The decision of Justice Tanko Muhammad to vacate office as the Chief Justice of Nigeria is commendable.
“I wish him well even as I commend him for his action and service to the nation.
“I wish the newly sworn-in Acting CJN Justice Olukayode Ariowoola success as he steps in to fill the gap and assure him of my commitment to advancing the frontiers of judicial independence and the promotion of separation of powers as the bedrock of deepening democracy and development,” the statement added.
About Justice Ariwoola
Justice Olukayode Ariwoola was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2011.
His Lordship was a Justice of the Court of Appeal between 2005 and 2011 after having been elevated from the State High Court of Oyo State.
He was first appointed a Judge of Superior Court of record in Oyo State in 1992 from private legal practice.
He started his educational career in his home town, Iseyin, at the Local Authority Demonstration School, Oluwole in Iseyin Local government of Oyo State between 1959 and 1967.
He was in the Muslim Modern School in the same town between 1968 and 1969 before proceeding to Ansar-Ud-Deen High School, Saki in Oyo North of Oyo State.
Justice Ariwoola studied law at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile Ife, and bagged his bachelor of law degree with honours in July 1980. In July 1981, Olu Ariwoola was called to the Nigerian bar and got enrolled at the Supreme Court of Nigeria as a Solicitor and Advocate soon after.
He was a State Counsel on National Youth Service (NYSC) at the Ministry of Justice, Akure, Ondo State and later as Legal Officer in the Ministry of Justice of his home state, Oyo, until 1988 when he voluntarily left the official bar of the State Civil Service for private practice.
The new CJN worked as Counsel in-Chambers of Chief Ladosu Ladapo, SAN, between October 1988 and July 1989 when he established Olukayode Ariwoola & Co – a firm of legal Practitioners and Consultants in Oyo town in August, 1989, from where he was appointed in November 1992 as a judge of Oyo State Judiciary.
Mr Ariwoola was born to the Ariwoola family of Iseyin over 60 years ago.
Before his elevation to the Supreme Court, he served as Justice of the Court of Appeal in Kaduna, Enugu and Lagos Divisions. He is also a fellow of the International Dispute Resolution Institute (FIDRI) having been inducted.
About Justice Tanko Muhammad
Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, the immediate past CJN, assumed office as CJN under controversial circumstances.
His predecessor, Justice Walter Onnoghen, was accused of asset declaration violation was dragged to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) by the federal government.
Onnoghen was formally arraigned before the CCT on Monday, January 14, 2019. He was accused of maintaining a domiciliary account with an unnamed bank consisting of different foreign currencies.
Onnoghen was accused of failing to declare his assets as required by the Code of Conduct Bureau Act.
Based in some of these allegations, he was forced to resign from office and immediately Justice Muhammad was sworn in.
Justice Muhammad was born on December 31, 1953, and served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria since 2005 and the CJN since 2019. He was formerly a Justice of the Nigerian Courts of Appeal.
He was born at Doguwa-Giade, a local government area in Bauchi State.
He attended Government Secondary School, Azare where he obtained the West Africa School Certificate in 1973 before he later proceeded to Ahmadu Bello University where he received an LL.B. degree in Islamic law in 1980. He later obtained an LL.M. degree and a Ph.D. in law from the same university in 1985 and 1998 respectively.
Justice Tanko began his career in 1982, after he was called to the bar in 1981, the same year he graduated from the Nigerian Law School.
In 1989, he was appointed as Chief Magistrate of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, a position he held until 1991 when he became a Judge at the Bauchi State Sharia Court of Appeal.
He served in that capacity for two years before he was appointed to the bench of the Nigerian courts of appeal as Justice in 1993.
He held this position for 13 years before he was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2006 but was sworn in on January 7, 2007.
On Thursday, July 11, 2019, Tanko Muhammad was nominated by President Buhari as substantive CJN barely 24 hours after National Judicial Council (NJC) recommended him to the president.