Outgoing justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Musa Dattijo, has declared that too much power has been vested in the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Speaking during the valedictory session held in his honour on Friday in Abuja, Dattijo also said the void caused by the absence of the South-East representative on the bench of the apex court was deliberate.
“As presently structured, the CJN is Chairman of the National Judicial Commission which oversees both the appointment and discipline of judges. He is equally the chair of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, the National Judicial Institute, and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee that appoints Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
“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 these powers are too much such that they “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 Dattijo alleged that justices from the South-East and North-Central zones were deliberately excluded from the seven-man panel that heard the appeals by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party.
He said leaving out justices from the regions endangers the nation’s democracy, adding that although the justice representing the South-East died over two years ago, he (the deceased) ought to have been replaced.
“To ensure justice and transparency in presidential appeals from the lower court, all geo-political zones are required to participate in the hearing. It is therefore dangerous for democracy and equity for two entire regions to be left out in the decisions that will affect the generality of Nigerians.
“With the passing of my lord, Justice Chima Nweze, on July 29 2023, the South-East no longer has any presence at the Supreme Court. My lord, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, died on March 7, 2021. There has not been any appointment in his stead for the South-East
“As it stands, only four geo-political regions – the South-West, South-South, North-West and North-East are represented in the Supreme Court. While the South-South and North-East have two serving justices, the North-West and South-West are fully represented with three each.”
He said with his retirement, the North-Central zone, which he represented, would no longer have a justice on the bench.