For the first time in history, a Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, yesterday, resigned from office, citing health grounds.
The resignation of Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad paved way for the next most senior jurist in the apex Court, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola to be sworn in as the acting CJN.
Justice Muhammad, who took over from Justice Walter Onnoghen under controversial circumstances in early 2019 was facing allegations of corruption and mismanagement by fourteen other Justices of Nigeria’s Supreme Court.
And a leaked memo, written to him by 14 justices of the court, led by Ariwoola himself, complained of poor welfare and lack of transparency in the management of the court’s resources, and that was unprecedented and highly damaging.
Expected to face the criticisms and defend his management of the resources of the court in line with the issues raised by his colleagues, Muhammad suddenly announced his exit yesterday on “health grounds”.
Deriving from his exit, Justice Ariwoola, 64, was sworn in as the Chief Justice of Nigeria in an acting capacity, pending when his name will be forwarded to the Senate for confirmation as substantive CJN.
President Muhammadu Buhari administered the oath of office on Justice Ariwoola at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Justice Ariwoola was promoted to the apex court on November 22, 2011, from the court of appeal.
“What Nigerians expect from me is to comply, preserve, abide and protect the Constitution 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,” Justice Ariwoola pledged, after taking the oath of office.
Reacting to Muhammad’s exit, the president of NBA, Olumide Akpata hinted that the rumbling in the Supreme Court over poor leadership could be a possible cause of the sudden resignation.
In a statement released yesterday, the NBA president stressed that 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.”
Akpata said: “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 CJN 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.”
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, (HURIWA) has said the resignation was not enough to clear him of corruption allegations levelled against him by the 14 justices of the Supreme Court.
HURIWA, in a statement by its National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, asked for the immediate arrest, investigation and if culpable, then prosecution of the retired CJN by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
Though Muhammad denied allegations of corruption, HURIWA had earlier asked the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to probe him over the complaints by the Supreme Court justices.