The Mahmud Mohammed Court: Its character and legacies, by Ise-Oluwa Ige (1)
Though he was on the bench for over three decades, not many Nigerians knew him. Not because his judgments were not landmark but because he did not enjoy controversy. Even when he was elevated to the Supreme Court bench in 2005 and climbed the ladder to emerge the 15th Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) in 2014, he was just working to grow the nation’s jurisprudence and protect the integrity of the judiciary which he represented. For those who knew him very well, Justice Mahmud Mohammed was and remains a quiet, humble, honest, pious, deep, and hardworking jurist. He spent 32 straight years on the bench, starting as a magistrate with unblemished record.
Born to the family of Mallam Mamman Maikato on November 10, 1946 in Jalingo, the capital of Taraba State, in the present North-east region of Nigeria, he received his elementary education at Mallam Kasimu Koranic School, Jalingo from 1950 to 1956. Specifically, he did his junior primary school education in Jalingo between 1953 and 1956 and his senior primary school in the same Jalingo from 1957 to 1959.
Soon after his primary school education, he proceeded to Secondary Technical School/ Government College, in Kaduna from 1960 to 1964 where he obtained his West African School Certificate. Because he had good grades in his ordinary level school certificate examinations, he registered for his Higher School Certificate popularly called HSC in those days at Government College/Rumfa College, Kano between 1965 and 1966. He passed out in flying colours.
He did not waste any time after his HSC programme as he applied and gained admission into the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria in 1967. By 1970, he was done with his degree programme as he was awarded a Bachelor of Law (LLB) degree in 1970 and was called to the Nigerian bar on July 18, 1971 immediately after he graduated from the Nigerian Law School, Lagos.
After bagging his first degree, Justice Mahmud did not stop updating his knowledge. Five years after he was done with his training at the Law School, he also proceeded to Commonwealth Institute of Legislative Drafting in July 1976, the National Institute of Public Management, Washington DC, USA in 1982 as well as the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London in 1983.
Mahmud started his legal career in public service as a state counsel in the ministries of Justice of the then North-eastern State and Gongola State. While he was a state counsel, he came across a number of judicial officers including the second longest serving Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais who made impact on his career. He rose to become the Attorney-General of Gongola State from October 1, 1981 to December 1, 1983.
Justice Mahmud’s judicial career started on October 25, 1984 when he was appointed as a Chief Magistrate (Grade One) in the defunct North Eastern State and Gongola State. He served in the magistracy for just five months and four days when he was elevated to the high court bench of Gongola State by then Military Head of State, Maj.-Gen Muhammadu Buhari. He rose in the state judiciary to become the Acting Chief Judge of Gongola State on July 19, 1988. He acted as the Gongola State Chief Judge for exactly one year, one day. On September 30, 1991, he became acting Chief Judge of Taraba State. His appointment was confirmed two and a half months after as he was made the substantive Chief Judge on December 18, 1991.
He served on the Taraba high court bench for just one year, one month and twelve days when he got elevated to the Court of Appeal on November 12, 1992. He became the presiding justice of the Court of Appeal from December 30, 2002 till June 7, 2005 when he was appointed as a justice of the Supreme Court. On November 20, Justice Mahmud made history as he was elevated as the 16th Chief Justice of Nigeria. The feat was capped with a conferment of the rank of Grand Commander Order of the Niger (GCON).
Apart from the litigative functions of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud also performed some administrative functions in the last two years as the administrative head of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Some of the major administrative functions of the court which he performed included supervisory and advisory roles over some parastatals as well as those relating to the internal administration of the Supreme Court. For instance, he presided over the apex regulatory judicial institution called National Judicial Council for the period. He also supervised the activities of the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) as its chairman, that of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) as Chairman of its Governing Council. He also superintended the activities of the National Judicial Institute (NJI) and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) as their chairmen.
As a public servant, Mahmud had served as member of several committees and panels.
Mahmud Mohammed had attended several workshops and seminars; he had also presented papers at different judicial workshops.
He is a member of numerous legal associations some of which include: The Nigerian Bar Association, International Bar Association, the Nigerian Body of Benchers, the National Judicial Council, the Bar Council and the Council of Legal Education, among others.
He is married with children, and his hobbies include football, reading, swimming, farming, animal rearing and photography.
JUDGES & LAWYERS’ RECOLLECTIONS OF JUSTICE MOHAMMED
From his profile above, Justice Mohammed had practised both at the bar and on the bench for decades. Few of those who knew him while doing what he knew best volunteered their recollections and opinions about him. From his boss and former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais to bar leaders and bright stars in the academia, their verdicts on Justice Mohammed were the same: quiet, humble, frank, honest, hardworking, incorruptible. Excerpts:
Justice Mohammed is a complete gentleman, well composed and hardworking—Uwais
Second longest serving Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais has described Justice Mahmud Mohammed, the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria as a complete gentleman, a quiet personality and a very hardworking jurist who well deserved a good rest after over 32 years on the bench. Excerpts of the interview.
When did you first come across the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria and what do you know about him?
Well, my first knowledge of the Chief Justice was way back in 1974 in the North Eastern state then which consisted of the present day Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi, Taraba and Adamawa states. The headquarters of the Northeast then was Maiduguri. And as the Acting Chief Judge of Northeast, though I was stationed in Bauchi, I used to sit in Maiduguri because there were just two of us handling the northeast high court then. The other judge was an expatriate. We shared the state into two. He was in charge of Borno and Sardauna provinces and I was in charge of Adamawa and Bauchi provinces. But whenever he was away, he used to go on leave for a long period like three and a half months. So, whenever he was away, I would be the only judge in the North-east then. I tried to cover up his own area as well. So, that is how I used to go to Maiduguri. At that time, the learned Chief Justice, Justice Mahmoud was, I think, a pupil state counsel in the ministry of justice of the Northeast State. And he had some seniors then because he was just a beginner in the ministry. And they had cases, of course, in the court, mainly criminal cases. And they used to come with the senior to appear before me. That was my first acquaintance with the chief justice.
Then, of course I left him in the Northeast in 1976. I was in my own state which is Kaduna state, but at that time, it was called North-central State. It was a combination of the present day Kaduna State, and Katsina State. So, I wasn’t seeing him much. There was a break between the time I was in Bauchi and the time I was in Kaduna. But as for Justice Mahmoud, I know on the creation of Gongola state, from the old North eastern state, he moved to Yola and he eventually was a high court judge and on the creation of Taraba State, I can’t remember very well now, he moved from Yola to Taraba State as the chief judge or acting chief judge of Taraba state. At that time, I was already in Lagos at the Supreme Court. There wasn’t much happening. He was a chief judge and I was a justice of the Supreme Court. Unless he came to Lagos, I had no occasion to see him because as a chief judge he was a member of the council of AJC (Advisory Judicial Committee) of the military regime then. Now, from the position of chief judge of Taraba, he became a justice of the Court of Appeal. I know he was posted around but I can’t remember now. But kaduna was one of the places and I think he served in Abuja as well. I can’t remember well. Now while I was the Chief Justice and he was at the Court of Appeal, way back in 2005, he was recommended to be appointed a justice of the Supreme Court. He was considered by the Federal Judicial Service Commission which nominated him to the National Judicial Council and the NJC recommended him to the president for appointment as justice of the Supreme Court. That was President Obasanjo. So, that’s how he became justice of the Supreme Court. When he came to the Supreme Court, I was also on my way out. I’m not sure we spent more than one year together. And I didn’t sit much with him that time because I was trying to wind up. But despite that, I know we sat on a number of occasions in some of the cases in the Supreme Court. After about 9 years, from 2005 when he came to the Supreme Court and 2014 when he succeeded Justice Aloma, he was a justice of the Supreme Court and he has been CJN since 2014 and will remain there till his retirement.
Judicial temperament is a key factor to consider to do a good assessment of a judicial officer. For the little time you sat together, how do you see him?
He is a gentleman. He is quiet by nature and very hardworking. That much I know. Like I said, when you are in the Supreme Court, there are panels that are constituted because we have up to 15, 17 justices. The ordinary panel will consist of five justices while what is called the full court will consist of seven justices. Now I wasn’t sitting much as the Chief Justice of Nigeria because of other engagements. Even when I sat, it is not always. If a panel is four, while I was there, I used to divide the year into three terms. The first term will be from September to December. The second term will be from January to Easter which may be the end of March or beginning of April and the third term is after Easter till mid July. So, what I used to do is to constitute three panels each term, five, five, five. That will give you 15. Now each panel sits for a week. So, if panel A is sitting, panel B will not be sitting. They will be in chambers, either holding conference on the cases they had done before or writing judgments or studying records for their next sitting. Because of this, I couldn’t put myself on any of the panels. There were three panels. That is 15 justices. Like I said, there used to be 16, 17 justices. So, if we are 17, two of us will be available to replace anyone if there is a problem because the case we are going to hear, any of them may be involved at the lower court. So you can’t sit on appeal over your own case. So, what we used to do then was to fill the space. Sometimes, somebody on a panel might also fall ill or disqualify himself from sitting over a case. It is the extra justices that will now fill the space. That was what they used to do then.
So, that was why I couldn’t really work fully with him. The panel changes every term. Unless if you look at the cases, maybe since the cases are reported, you can tell me easily, if you go to the time he came to the Supreme Court, just a period of one year, you can easily count on your fingers the number of cases we did together. Bu I know him as somebody who is well composed. He is hard-working. He is not a noisemaker, normally.
Justice Mohammed is an exemplary jurist—Awomolo (SAN)
Prominent legal practitioner and respected member of the inner bar, Asiwaju Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) has described the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed as an exemplary jurist and a courageous leader who believed and lived a life separated unto law.
Awomolo (SAN), in an exclusive interview with Bar and Bench Watch, on the life and times of the immediate past CJN on the bench said Justice Mahmud’s tenure was one of the best ever in the history of the nation’s judiciary even though it was a short one and notwithstanding the crisis that erupted towards the tail end of his administration.
Awomolo (SAN) who dissected Justice Mahmud’s tenure said the jurist “is one judicial officer the Bar and the Bench should and must celebrate because his contributions in judicial decisions are monumental.”
In this racy interview presented in a feature format, Asiwaju spoke about his knowledge of Justice Mahmud as a person, his judicial temperament, attitude to lawyers and colleagues outside the court, his assessment of his two-year tenure, his achievements as CJN and how well he was able to balance judicial powers with political powers to stabilise the polity between 2014 and 2016 when he held sway as CJN.
The erudite Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) was just flowing naturally while doing justice to the questions. Excerpts:
Hon. Justice Mahmoud Mohammed, CJN, GCON belongs to the old school who believed and lived a life separated unto law.
I know two things define a Judge: Character and learning. His Lordship excelled in both. The Law Reports are replete with his deep wisdom and knowledge of law. Throughout his career which spanned over three (3) decades, I know of no one who has accused him of anything, attacking his character as a Judge.
In every age, profession or calling, there are individuals who through their character, learning, integrity, diligence and moral rectitude leave indelible impression in the hearts of generations after them. Hon. Justice Mahmoud Mohammed comes across as an outstanding figure in judicial firmament. His physical gentle personality reflects the looks of sage in the holy books. Anyone who gets deceived by his physical look and takes him for granted does so to his own peril.
Hon. Justice Mahmoud Mohammed demonstrated extraordinary faith in the institution called Judiciary. At the expense of his personal comfort, His Lordship stood like the Rock of Gibraltar, to resist all the shenanigans of the politicians and their agents. His experiences as a public officer have exposed him to use and misuse of State Powers. Lord Denning in 1949 spoke of the powers of the state and the exercise of same by officers, thus:
“…So long as the powers are properly exercised, they are themselves the safeguards of freedom. But powers may be abused, and if these powers are abused, there is no tyranny like them. It leads to a state of anarchy when the policemen arrest any man and throw him into prison without cause. It leads to the hated gestapo and the police state. It leads to extorted confession and to trials which are a mockery of justice.”
His Lordship, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, never hid his disdain for tyranny. He once said to the effect that the power of the state to deal with saboteurs, corrupt and unpatriotic persons should be very strictly controlled and be entrusted to responsible functionaries and who should not delegate such awesome powers.
Hon. Chief Justice Mahmoud Mohammed demonstrated excellent manifestation of the Ten Commandments of a judicial officer as espoused by Hon. Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, JSC (of blessed memory) in his book “Our Temple of Justice”.
He has a kind and understanding heart. He was always conscious that the power of life and death over fellow humans donated to Judges by the Constitution and Statutes, requires kind and understanding heart. He holds to his chest, application of the rules of fair hearing as the most invaluable mantra.
He is an epitome of Patience in and out of Court. He listens soberly and attentively to submissions of counsel and reflects very soberly.
His patience makes him much appreciated and respected by all the members of the Bar. He never showed irritation, annoyance or boredom.
He is just and upright. In this respect, he conducts his administrative and judicial assignments scrupulously and assiduously observing the Constitution and the rule of law.
He chorused in one of his judgments the statement of Hon. Justice M. L. Uwais, GCON (retired Chief Justice of Nigeria), to the effect that when the law prescribed the manner of doing a thing, that procedure must be followed strictly, the doing of the said thing or act otherwise renders the thing done as null and void.
He is a judge not persuaded by exigencies or sentiments but by the established principles and law. He is impartial and not persuaded by any primordial sentiment.
He is an adherent of the belief that justice is rooted in confidence and confidence is destroyed when right minded people go away thinking the judge was biased.
His leadership of the National Judicial Council has shown him as a courageous and sincere leader who has respect for team spirit.
He has in no small way or measure shown the world that the independence of the Judiciary is non-negotiable. His commitment to honour, integrity and incorruptibility of the Judiciary as an arm of Government, should and must never be surrendered no matter the propaganda, intimidation, blackmail and insults or assaults from whatever direction.
Hon. Justice Mohammed even as the Chief Justice of Nigeria never shied away from presiding over delicate and political cases involving the Legislature and the Executives. He is industrious and diligent. He personally chaired panel of Justices in many election matters and his decisions are unassailable. He is bold, intelligent and knew the law, expected of his office as the head of the Judiciary. He applies industry and wisdom in all his decisions.
His Lordship lives a life of almost monastic existence. He politely refused gifts.
I personally experienced this when we attended Commonwealth Conference in South Africa. We met in a bookshop. I picked a copy of the Book titled “Weird Cases” by Garry Stapper. He also picked a copy. He opened a page laughed and I offered to buy him a copy. He politely declined. He said “I have paid for my copy”. I got the message. He is incorruptible. He lived a very disciplined life by control of his heart, his eyes and the desire of worldly things.
He never thinks too much of himself. He is humble to a fault, in that he bore all things with simplicity of smiles and in his strides.
He treated all cases with equal seriousness. He is one judge who was always very versatile and deep on records of appeal. You almost think he prepared the records by references to pages counsel never thought his Lordship had read.
He is very humorous and his instinct many instances make him look like a genius.
He is one who fears God and never carried it on his face. He deals with everyone equally irrespective of tribe, religion or culture. He is a man in control of himself at any given time.
He is one judicial officer the Bar and the Bench should and must celebrate because his contributions in judicial decisions are monumental.
His leadership of the Nigerian Judiciary has shown consistency, courage, fear of God and institutional faith building. He believes in the principle of separation of powers and independence of the Judiciary constitutionally, statutorily and in every sense and deed. He has shown courage, resilience, independence and commitment to the institution called judiciary. He deserves rest after over forty years in the service of his fatherland.
CJN Mahmud’s two-year tenure fantastic, commendable—Awa Kalu (SAN)
Former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Abia State and erudite law scholar, Prof Awa Kalu (SAN) has given the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, a thumbs up for what he called a commendable handling of the judiciary in the last two years of his tenure as CJN
Kalu (SAN), in an exclusive interview with Bar and Bench Watch, said that though two years was too short a period to assess an office holder, he nonetheless said there were, fortunately, so many achievements recorded by the administration of the CJN to really place him on the scale.
He told Bar and Bench Watch that Justice Mahmud was very exceptional in the way he disposed so many pre-election cases that were pending when he assumed office and that unlike many CJNs, he was not pretending to be busy with administrative duties.
He said the CJN presided over practically all touchy political cases that came to the Supreme Court, knowing that if bungled could have created a lot of crises in the polity.
He also touched a variety of issues. Excerpts:
How long have you known my lord, Hon Justice Mahmud?
I have known him since he came to the Supreme Court. I can’t remember exactly when. But I have known him for a reasonable period to enable me as an adult form an opinion which exactly you are asking me to do now.
I know for sure that he has devoted a significant part of his adult life in the service of the law, the judiciary and the nation. When I say service to the law, what I mean is that when you are called to the bar, you become a minister in the temple of justice and it is one of the most onerous responsibilities. To be a minister in the temple of justice, a lot is given to you and a lot is required of you. You choose whether to remain at the bar or to go to the bench. His lordship, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, at a stage of his career chose to go to the bench. And he has been on the bench for a long time, serving at all stages, culminating in his retirement which would soon come. The constitution is clear about it. When you are 70 as a justice of the Supreme Court, you retire mandatorily. Luckily, his lordship will turn 70 on the 10th of November, 2016. After that date, he will no longer be eligible to sit in any court in Nigeria. So, to that extent, it is not everybody who comes to public service that retires. And for that reason, whoever serves in any part of the public service whether as a judge, civil servant, public servant, pubic office holder of any sort, when you are retiring, it is a thing of joy. Public service is laden with booby traps. So when you have traversed different rungs of the ladder in judicial service, you must rejoice. So that is the way it is.
Have you ever appeared before him in court and what is your assessment of him?
I have appeared before him on a couple of occasions. As the chief justice, if he is sitting, that means he is presiding. If he is presiding, that means he is directing. If he is directing, that means he decides whether you speak or not. And that is how you determine judicial temperament. Once an appellate judge says alright, let us hear you, that means he appreciates that the other side must be heard. Parties who appear at that level ought to ventilate their grievances through their counsel. So, in summary, I think he epitomizes good judicial behavior by listening cautiously. This is because that is what the Great Lord Dennins recommended. It is also the same recommendation from the late Justice Kayode Esho, Oputa, justices of the years gone by. A judge must listen cautiously and judge wisely. I think those attributes apply to Honourable Justice Mahmoud, the CJN.
Would you remember any landmark case(s) that he handled in the past?
When a case is listed in the Supreme Court which is the apex court, the highest court of the land, the presumption is that the case is landmark. So, that epithet in my view characterises any case that goes to the Supreme Court. No case can be at the Supreme Court without being a landmark case. This is because when you want the last court to say something about your case, what it means in certain cases is that, maybe the case arose from a magistrate court, or a customary court, and it now goes through the high court, customary court of appeal, goes through the court of appeal and comes to the supreme court, we assume in our own profession that when a case has traversed those levels, there must be something in it that warrants a final say from the Supreme Court. Yes, he has presided over cases that are landmark. In our current situation in this country where gubernatorial election disputes end up in the Supreme Court, where presidential election and national assembly election end up in the supreme court, you find that the supreme court struggles all the time to maintain a balance between the requirements of justice and the requirements of power. This is because the requirements are different. That is why I have characterised any political case that lands at the Supreme Court as a landmark case. So, yes, he has presided over many. If you want them, I will list them.
Looking at his tenure, how will you rate his performance. What are the major achievements you can ascribe to him?
I will start by saying that the tenure of recent chief justices has been too short to enable a dispassionate assessment of the contributions of the chief justice and not the court itself. This is because the chief justice is the primus inter pares. He is the head of court as well the chief justice of the Federation. So, when you are looking at somebody who has done two years at the Supreme Court, it may not be enough for a forensic evaluation of the contributions he has made as chief justice. Being primus inter pares means he should have his own idea of the law, he should have his idea of jurisprudence; he should have his idea of public policy; he should have his own notion of how justice should balance the equilibrium in the society. Two years is too short. Nonetheless, without any equivocation, I will say that what I find within his tenure is that he brought his weight to bear on the cases that had accumulated before him. My understanding is that there were a number of pending political cases which were creating a little bit of tension in political circles. This is because in the nature of things, when a political dispute remains unresolved for a long time, first, speculations will mount. Two, tongues will start wagging. Three, fingers will be pointed and the rumour mill is energised. And so, my recollection is that as soon as he became chief justice, he cleared the political cases, particularly the pre-election cases that were pending before he assumed office. I will think that is a major achievement.
Two, he has looked at indiscipline within the judicial firmament and there is sufficient information on judicial officers who were recently disciplined for one thing or the other.
Then you look at the modifications he has made to the procedure for the appointment and elevation of lawyers to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, he has made the procedure more transparent, he has brought more confidence in the minds of those who seek the rank. The last exercise, to the best of my knowledge, has not generated any controversy of favouritism, nepotism etc. So, I think having such achievements within a period of two years is commendable.
Also, the Supreme Court has been physically touched up especially the entrance, some of the inner recesses of the court. The security has been beefed up as you approach the Supreme Court and even when you want to gain entrance into the Court’s complex which has not been so before. Although I know that it is the chief registrar that handles such, but it has to be with his concurrence. Yes, aesthetically, he has left his imprints on the Supreme Court. So, within the confines of this interview, I think two years as Chief Justice of Nigeria with such achievements, is commendable.
What other achievement can you ascribe to his tenure?
When you call it achievements, the impression that you create is that it has to be something that is earth-shaking or ground-breaking. But there are things I consider in my own view as achievements for people in high office. And the greatest hallmark of the Chief Justice of Nigeria is his humility, his modesty and his ability to disarm anybody who is before him. If you walk past him on the way, you may not know he is the chief justice because of his humility. No airs. No assumptions. If you sit with him one on one, you will understand that he knows who he is and he knows who you are and he gives you your due. That is the easiest way I know to describe him. Despite his high office, he is on a wavelength that you can say what you have on your mind.
His Lordship is the 16th CJN, meaning he had 15 predecessors. Some of these regimes were ridden with one crisis or the other. How do you see his own? Was he able to stabilise the judiciary?
Apart from the development of the past one week, by that I mean the misfortune which befell the judiciary, the first experience of its kind in the history of judiciary of this country, a law enforcement agency going to the homes of several judicial officers, executing search warrants, arresting those judicial officers during unholy hours. I know of no other issue that arose during his tenure. By no other issue, I mean issues that have not been dealt with by what we call the due process. I have no quarrel with attempting to purge the judiciary of alleged corruption. But I’m a conservative lawyer and I favour due process. I know that some of my colleagues have spoken in favour of what the law enforcement agency did. But I’m not persuaded and I think that the learned chief justice of Nigeria seized the earliest opportunity to speak out against impunity of some other persons. Some other persons might not talk and say I’m going in a few days and you keep your mouth shut. If you want to be populist, you say I’m going in a few days, let the heavens fall. But that would not have enhanced his legacy. Part of his legacy is that let nothing go wrong on your watch. Whether you are the chief justice of Nigeria or you are in charge of an office that is lesser than that, if you are number one in that office and an attempt is made to desecrate the office which you held, the best attitude is to speak out, condemn what is condemnable and take action that is necessary to ensure that no such event happens again. I’m happy that the CJN spoke out and presided over the meeting of the NJC which he also chairs and the NJC made its view known and the matter is in the court of public opinion.
Speaking specifically, how do you assess the tenure of Mahmoud on his protection of the independence of the judiciary?
Independence of the judiciary is a very complex concept. A lot of people say that independence of the judiciary is a phrase. But it is not just a phrase but one that calls for understanding. It calls for multi-sectoral actions because when you look at the independence of the judiciary, some people think that you are talking about independence from the executive branch or legislative branch of government. Anybody who belongs to the judiciary ought to fear political powers. He ought to fear captains of industry. He ought to fear even the powers of the masses. What judiciary power is all about is the influence which is brought to bear on conflicts in the society and you moderate those conflicts and you bring equilibrium. For you to be able to bring equilibrium in a conflicting society where there is social interaction, where there are economic disputes, where there are commercial disputes, where you have family disputes and intrigues, where you can just with your pen order that a man be hanged until he be dead, you need sufficient independence, not just from political influence but from all kinds of influences including religious influence. You become independent by developing a mind and becoming aware of what an ordinary man should know. If you are ignorant either of the law or the values of the society, you are not independent. If you are corrupt, you are not independent. If you are too aggressive, in terms of social interaction, you cannot be a judge. An independent judge requires insulation from the forces of nature. If there is a party (owanbe), a judge should not be found there. If there is a crusade where prophecy is riding high, in my view, a judge should be insulated, lest there be prophecy concerning the judgment he would give tomorrow. So far, within the two years he had been in high office apart from the events which we had earlier described, we have not had any eruptions of a difficult type. That is all I mean.
What about the human rights stance of his tenure?
The thing about Supreme Court is that it is a very powerful court. Everything ends there. And so, when you bring the facts, what the supreme court does is to bring the law to bear on those facts. And apart from allegations of conflicting decisions, which did not originate from his tenure anyway, he assured the nation that the NJC is looking at not just the sources of those conflicting decisions but on how to ensure that they are brought to a minimum.
When a court is sitting either as a single court or multi-bench court when several judges are sitting at the same time, errors must occur. If you look at the Court of Appeal, for instance, it sits in about 16 divisions. And we are not yet too electronically advanced. So, if a division of the Court of Appeal is sitting in Sokoto, and another in Calabar, look at the geographical divide and then, if they are considering the same point of law, there is no way somebody sitting in Sokoto with a different set of lawyers would anticipate what his judicial brethren operating in Calabar will say about the same matter unless what we call judicial precedent is respected. There is hardly any point of law within our own level that something has not been said. The responsibility of a judge is to inform himself. The responsibility of lawyers who practise before our judges is also to inform them if there is a gap, then conflict may arise. If a judge misapprehends a decision that had been given before on a similar point of law, conflict may occur. But the assumption of the man on the street is that conflict arises only because of corruption. That may not necessarily be so. But I’m gladdened by the fact that the chief justice of Nigeria has promised that the NJC would deal with conflicts that have arisen out of self interest or out of ignorance. Judges are not above mistakes. The supreme court itself has said it that they are not infallible. They are merely infallible because they are final. It is a final court. Whatever goes there is final. It is for that reason people think they are infallible. But in terms of infallibility, there is no human being who is infallible. That is the situation that the CJN has brought to the attention of all those who are watching the court.
When you are talking about a man who is 69, a lot of people think that at that age when you are very close to age 70, his lordship is only a few days away from 70 but looking at the panels he had presided over, in recent times, you will find that he still has capacity for hardwork. I will give the decision of the supreme court in Prince Abubakar Audu vs Captain Idris Wada which is a political case. Aloma Mariam Muhktar, the immediate past CJN presided, and his lordship, the incumbent read the opinion of the court. If you look at other decisions that have been reported in 2016 alone, in part 1526 of Nigerian Weekly Law Report alone, there were six separate decisions in which his lordship either presided or read the lead judgment or concurred. For part 1500, there is one decision: Olubukola Saraki vs Federal Republic of Nigeria, his lordship presided. It is a matter which is known to everyone. As CJN, part of what the general public does not know is that when a matter is hot and people are questioning the impartiality of the court, if you are the chief judge or president of the court of appeal or the CJN, you can douse ordinary suspicion by sitting and that was what his Lordship did by presiding over the panel that heard that case. If you look at part 1524, I’m just doing random sampling, his lordship as chief justice of Nigeria presided and read the lead judgment in Famakinwa vs the state. It is a criminal matter. So, ordinarily, when a judicial officer moves from controversial political cases and goes to criminal proceedings, what it points to is his mental acuity. The ability to hold a sensitive office as CJN where you are chairman of NJC, chairman of LPPC, you are chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, chairman at the National Judicial Institute, NIAL, you have commitment and you still find time to preside and write judgments in diverse areas of the law, I think all we can do is to say that the man still has energy for the office which he occupies. He presided over a panel in Obinna John vs the State. I will give you one more. It is INEC vs Alex Otti. It is a governorship election petition which came to the Supreme Court. The sitting was on February 26, 2016 and his lordship presided. Presiding is not just presiding in court, if there is pre-hearing conference or a post-hearing conference, he also sits down, moderates it, listens to the view of his learned brothers or brethren as to the facts and the law, and the circumstances. The summary of what I’m saying is that from the few decisions that we have examined, there is still plenty of energy. And that is why, occasionally, some people say for those who have abundant energy, to ask them to go at 70 seems a little premature. But that is what our constitution says for now. When you are 70, sitting in an appellate court, you have to go. If you are 65 as a high court judge, you also have to go. And it is mandatory.
Nigeria’s democracy could have failed in 2015 but for Mahmud’s apolitical stance—Olanipekun (SAN)
Erstwhile Attorney General of Ondo State and one-time President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Oluwole Olanipekun (SAN) has said that the nation’s democracy could have failed after the 2015 general polls but for the apolotical stance of the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed in the handling of various electoral disputes which arose from the election.
Olanipekun (SAN), in an exclusive interview with the Bar and Bench Watch, said that he would not think twice to score the tenure of Justice Mahmud as excellent, given a number of vital indices.
He said that Justice Mahmud was very fantastic in his handling of the judiciary in the last two years including the crisis which erupted towards the tail end of his tenure.
Olanipekun (SAN), a renowned legal luminary, also spoke on a variety of issues in this exclusive interview with Bar and Bench Watch. Enjoy!
For how long have you known his Lordship, Justice Mahmud Mohammed and what can you say about him in terms of his judicial temperament to hear out parties before him or the panel he presides over, his attitude to lawyers and colleagues outside the court and thoroughness?
I have known the Honourable Justice Mahmud Mohammed, GCON since his very eventful and rewarding days on the Bench of the Court of Appeal, as I appeared before him in several appeals. But before then, I had heard about this judicial icon, either or both as a Chief Judge in Adamawa State or Taraba State, and Gombe State. I have followed with keenness his trajectory on the Bench, starting from the High Court, where he rose to become the Chief Judge of two/three States, before deciding to proceed to the Court of Appeal Bench, a decision which is still very commendable, particularly when one considers the fact that majority of Chief Judges of our High Courts do not want to go to the Court of Appeal, for obvious reasons.
Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed’s temperament is worthy of emulation by other Judges. He is very painstaking, matured, intelligent, courteous and thorough. He is a Judge who is sure- footed, and would not mind writing a dissenting judgment whenever he is convinced that the majority is wrong. His dissenting judgment in Dingyadi v INEC (No. 1) (2010) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1224), where he presided and dissented remains one of the few dissenting judgments that have come out from the Supreme Court of recent, as it appears to me that the age of dissenting judgments in our appellate courts are evaporating.
Do you think the mandatory retirement age of 70 for justices of the Supreme Court is okay? If yes, why? If no, why?
I am of the view that the mandatory retirement age of 70 years for Justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court is in order. Let us remind ourselves that the environmental circumstances in Nigeria fast-track the ageing of Judges, and we should not deceive ourselves by pursuing the argument that Judges should retire post 70 years of age. Let us remind ourselves that the retirement age of Judges used to be 65 years, and it was for obvious political reasons that the Military Government of General Abacha increased the retirement age of appellate Justices to 70, and left that of the High Court Judges to 65. To my mind, all Judges of superior courts should retire at the same age of 70.
His lordship has been in the saddle in the last two years. How do you assess his tenure?
For the past two years, Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed has been in the saddle as the Chief Justice of Nigeria. His tenure has witnessed tremendous achievements, both at the Supreme Court in particular, and in terms of administration of justice in Nigeria generally. But for the courage and determination of His Lordship to be neutral and apolitical in handling the cases that came to the Supreme Court, leading to his presiding over most of the political cases that came to the apex court during his tenure, particularly after the general elections of 2015, our nascent democracy might have been threatened. For the first time in the history of the Supreme Court, very sensitive political cases were heard, and judgments delivered the same day, but reasons for judgments reserved. This was done for obvious reasons, and to my mind, in order to avoid lobbying. In assessing his tenure, I will give him excellent. However, it is rather unfortunate that it was/is at the tail end of an otherwise scintillating tenure that some Judges’ houses were raided by security agencies on accusation of judicial corruption, here and there. The way and manner His Lordship rose up to the occasion in defence of the institution of the Judiciary and its independence, rather than the defence of any individual corrupt Judge deserve our commendation in the legal profession. I stand by him as a senior member of the Bar; although I abhor and condemn any trace of corruption on the Bench. There is no justifiable reason for any Judge, who is called upon to adjudicate on matters between his fellow human beings should swindle justice, and corrupt the Bench.
Will you say his Lordship has had a great tenure in terms of institutional integrity, administration of justice, appointment of judges, information technology, appointment of SANs and Bar and Bench collaboration, among others?
In terms of institutional integrity, the recent raid on the homes and residences of some of our Judges has badly affected the institutional integrity of the Judiciary; and this also dovetails into the administration of justice, particularly in the mind of a host of Nigerians. On appointment of Judges, information communication technology and appointment of SANs, His Lordship has done very well, and he is leaving imperishable legacies for posterity. Be that as it may, the new Guidelines put in place by His Lordship for the appointment of SANs after the last meritorious exercise which he did would need critical review. The Bar and Bench collaboration has been very smooth; and it could not have been otherwise, because Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed, GCON is damn very humble, amiable and friendly. Court facilities are still very inadequate all over, generally in the State courts, and substantially in the Federal courts. This fault cannot be attributable to the Judiciary, but to the Executives who have refused to provide the necessary funds and wherewithal for the smooth running of the Judiciary. The ideal thing is for the Judiciary to be self-accounting, so that it can budget and provide for court facilities. In my honest opinion, the independence of the Judiciary has been threatened, if not eroded by the last sting operation by the DSS. But as stated earlier, the Honourable Chief Justice is stoically defending and standing for the independence of the Judiciary, despite all odds.
Do you have any word of advice, encouragement for his lordship as he proceeds on retirement?
As His Lordship proceeds on retirement, he should be satisfied in the fact that he has put in his best to the legal profession in particular, and service of the nation and humanity in general. He is an accomplished and fulfilled man. My advice to him, is that he should not be disturbed by the recent happenings in the Judiciary, since he has a clear and clean conscience. I am not aware of any lawyer who has carried or spread any rumor or allegation of corruption about or against His Lordship; and no fair minded counsel can say that he is not intelligent. He is held in very high esteem by me, as well as most lawyers.
Can you recall some of the landmark cases he handled at any stage of his career on the bench and cite any of his pronouncements which had gone a long way to develop the body of law in Nigeria?
Both at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, His Lordship decided many land mark cases which litter our Law Reports. The cases decided by him should be a subject of a jurisprudential text on its own.
How well, in your own view, did Justice Mahmud Mohammed’s court succeed in balancing judicial powers with the political powers in stabilising the polity?
Simply put, Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed, GCON has stabilized the entire polity through his leadership of the Supreme Court, and taking responsibility to personally preside over very sensitive and complex political cases. Of recent, I am not aware of any Chief Justice who took this option, as some of the former Chief Justices would not sit or preside, but delegate responsibilities. This is also what occurs at the state level, where Chief Judges rarely sit.
Justice Mohammed is a frank, deep, and thorough jurist—Prof Adekunle Adedeji
Prof Adedeji Adekunle is the incumbent Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. He is a very quiet and deep scholar. Anytime he speaks out, his words have the trappings of the oracle’s. In this interview with Bar and Bench Watch, he spoke about the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria in superlative adjectives. Excerpts.
For how long have you known the outgoing CJN and what can you say about him?
Well, I knew him a few months before I assumed office as the Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and it was in the context of resolving the chairmanship of our council. And I was struck by his simplicity and candour, particularly in relation to the propriety of a serving chief justice chairing the council of a parastatal of a ministry of justice. In his view, he found it as an aberration. After a few minutes of my discussing with him, I realise that his position was indeed flawless.
Since then, I have found his approach to issues, not only frank but also has very good grasp of issues. He demonstrates that on every occasion. And he is a painstaking person. I can also say that he doesn’t take anything for granted. Even when you ask him to come and chair an event, or, of course, to write a foreword to a book, he would question you, ask why you think he is the proper person to do it, particularly when it is not his field. During certain conversations, I got to know that he was a trained legal draftsman too.
I think people like my lord, Justice Mahmud, such character, such nobility might clash with the rapacious society we find ourselves. This is a society where values are in deep reverse. Intrigues and all kinds of schemes are the order of the day. And I believe he rose above all those. This for me, he did his best to promote absolute respect for the judiciary.
History may say that he had not been proactive enough in terms of some measures, initiative but I hope that that judgment, if you set it in the context of one who has painstakingly built a career in the judiciary and one who really like to be very sure of something before doing it, then you can understand why he seems to have taken his time. He is somebody I believe will not just because of a little time he has to spend as the chief justice, saying that I had better rush something, and get remembered by it. He wouldn’t do that. I think that is the way I will like to remember him.
How will you assess him based on how he handled the latest crisis in the judiciary.?
If you are talking about the allegations of corruption against the two justices of the Supreme Court and indeed other judicial officers, considering that he chairs the apex disciplinary institution, I think I didn’t expect him to react any differently to be sure as a chairman of that body. He would certainly have to respond and show people that he hadn’t been presiding over a lame-duck. This is the way I would interpret the advertorial that we have had and also efforts to develop more detailed guidelines and also the constitution of the ethics committee. Of course, when you look at the extent of all of these, it also speaks to the need to reform the processes and perhaps the composition of the NJC. Clearly, there is need for more transparency and a much more proactive approach to issues.
Justice Mohammed is a judge to emulate—Okocha (SAN)
Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief O C J Okocha (SAN) has described the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Mahmud Mohammed as a good example of a judge to emulate.
In this interview with Bar and Bench Watch, he also spoke on how the leadership of Justice Mohammed impacted positively on the administration of justice during his tenure. Excerpts.
For how long have you known his Lordship, Justice Mahmud Mohammed and what can you say about him in terms of his patience to hear out parties before him, his attitude to lawyers and colleagues outside the court and thoroughness?
I have known The Honourable Justice Mahmud Mohammed, The Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria, for several years now. I appeared before His Lordship for the first time when he was a Justice of the Court of Appeal, and was sitting in the Benin Division. I later appeared before His Lordship again after he had become a Justice of the Supreme Court. He always displayed the finest attributes of the quintessential judge, reserved, reticent, spartan, taciturn, and rarely interrupting counsel in the presentation of their arguments. He was always courteous to counsel, even outside the court. His written judgments were clear and lucid, and it was always quite easy to follow his reasoning. He was thorough in his consideration of appeals. In addition, I also had the privilege of serving with His Lordship on the National Judicial Council (NJC), when he became the Deputy Chairman of that eminent Body. In the deliberations of the NJC, His Lordship was firm and decisive, and he always came across as someone who abhorred bribery and corruption, and the other forms of indiscipline displayed by some Judicial Officers. His Lordship also seemed to have a love for the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and wholeheartedly supported all the policies and programmes of the Association.
Do you think the mandatory retirement age of 70 for justices of the Supreme Court is okay? If yes, why? If no, why?
Yes, I think so. This is because our living conditions in Nigeria are not that good, and medical health facilities are very poor. The other truth of the matter is that only a lucky few continue to enjoy good health after they attain the age of seventy years.
His lordship has been in the saddle in the last two years. How do you assess his tenure?
His Lordship has been serving very creditably as Chief Justice of Nigeria. I personally have a lot to praise him for, most especially for the landmark judgments in some political cases, which judgments have helped to stabilize political affairs in Nigeria.
Will you say his Lordship has had a great tenure?
Yes, I would say so. I must commend His Lordship on the principled stand he has taken, and so also has the NJC, in the condemnation of the recent unwarranted and unwholesome raids by the Department of State Security (DSS) on the residences of some Judges and Justices of the Superior Courts in Nigeria.
What words of advice, encouragement do you have for his lordship as he proceeds on retirement?
I would like to heartily congratulate His Lordship for having achieved a successful career in our Learned and Honourable Profession of Law. His Lordship is retiring after serving meritoriously, without any blemish on his character, and that is something for which we must thank God, and give Him all the praise and glory. I would also like to wish His Lordship every happiness and peace as he bows out from Judicial Service.
How well, in your own view, has Justice Mahmud Mohammed’s court succeeded in balancing judicial powers with the political powers to stabilise the polity?
Very well, in my humble view, the real problem as to why our polity in Nigeria continues to remain unstable is indisputably the fault of the politicians, most of who are corrupt, indisciplined and lawless.
CJN Mohammed and his CR are miracle workers–Sheu Mohammed (MNI)
Alhaji Sheu Mohammed is the incumbent Director of Administration of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. On the permission of the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, he agreed to speak with our team on the landmark achievements of the Justice Mohammed’s Court. He described the combination of the CJN and the CR as divine even as he described their performance in the last two years as unprecedented.
Can you introduce yourself, sir and tell us when exactly you knew the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammed and his Chief Registrar and make brief comments on their performance in the last two years?
My name is Sheu Usman Mohammed (MNI). I am the director of administration of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. I have known the honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed for a long time. I joined the service of this court in 2004, year before the CJN was elevated to the Supreme Court. I relate closely with him since he came. One thing I know about him and which many people will confirm to you is that he is a symbol of humility. He is a humble personality and he is highly religious. He is God fearing. He is obviously humble and God fearing. That is my observation of him. Of course, he is highly committed to his job.
For the Chief Registrar, Mr Ahmed Gambo Saleh, I think God has a way of doing his things. God knows the intention of the honourable CJN and so guided him in selecting the person that will work with him. God, in his infinite mercy, has chosen for him the chief registrar. I believe he was not ordinarily chosen. I believe God knows his intention for the court, hence used the CJN to pick him as his chief registrar.
Maybe you are not a visitor to the Supreme Court for the first time. Maybe you have been a friend of the Supreme Court, I don’t know. If you know this court before the chief registrar and the outgoing CJN came on board, and you know the situation then and now, you will honestly have no choice but to describe them as a big success.
Theirs is a success story. Look at the structure, look at the environment, the transformation that has taken place within the complex and around the complex, you will know that these people are totally committed to transforming the court structure. They have done their best.
On the human resources, I cannot remember. It is not easy for me because I have not gone back to the record. But I can authoritatively say that regarding the training of personnel, there is a record achievement in the training of the personnel of the court. So far, out of about 1000 staff, we have trained over 600 internally and foreign training has been taking place also.
There is commitment to human capital development. That I can testify. And it is still on-going. The year has not ended. Right now, the Chief Registrar has approved the training of 210 staff, both in the senior and junior category. 110 junior staff and another 110 senior staff will benefit from the programme. And I believe he still has plan to train more before the year runs out. As I said, theirs is a success story.
All we have to do is to pray to the Almighty to guide them in their future endeavours. We pray to Almighty God to make every day of the retirement of honourable Justice Mahmud Mohammed every day of his retirement better than the years he spent in service. And may the Almighty continue to guide the honourable chief registrar in the performance of the onerous task ahead of him.
You said looking at the court before 2014 and now, there are some changes. Has the court expanded? What exactly do you mean? What are those changes you are talking about
Ok, now if you are coming in from the main entrance of the Supreme Court, it has changed completely. Unlike what it used to be, it is electronically controlled now. Formerly, it was manually controlled. It is now electronically controlled with security men everywhere. Formerly, all the major entrances to the court were opened to everybody. But now, there is control for entry and exit into the court premises.
Visitors into the court have to access the court through one entry while staff of the court used another entry.
Before now, as a visitor, you could access the court through any point. So, the security situation has greatly improved. There is serious control measure put in place. If you come in, you will observe the presence of security at every point. They will ask you where you are going and things like that.
Formerly, it was not like that. Everybody has tried. The previous administrations have also done their best. But honestly, there is tremendous improvement on what was on ground before.
If you go to the court, one of the courtrooms has been completely transformed structurally.
Formerly, we don’t have a standard staff canteen. That was the first thing he did. He introduced a standard staff canteen for the senior and the junior staff. He made it so convenient for the operators and the staff.
He has also given the Nigeria Police a befitting office on the premises of the Supreme Court. It is a world standard. Formerly, the police were within the Supreme Court Complex. Now the police have their own station outside the complex on the Supreme Court premises.
The library used to be a place for everybody. He has transformed completely the library side and it is now going to serve as Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre.
Some part of the library that was not put into proper use, it was completely transformed and put into proper use. It is now going to be used as Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre for the court.
Also, the environment of the court has been transformed. You can see the landscaping. Everything has been greatly improved. And the credit goes to them for these tremendous changes they have brought into these administration and the structural transformation of the court.
You said he has transformed one of the court rooms….(cuts in)
Yes, I said so. One of the court rooms was transformed to world standard. Go and see it for yourself. There are three court rooms. He has taken just one of the court rooms and transformed it completely. Go and see it yourself. Or have you been there?
No, I have not.
Please, take your time and visit the court room I am talking about that is being transformed to the world standard. You will be proud, as a staff, that you are working in the Supreme Court if you take any visitor there. If you are a visitor, you will be proud that your country has a world class Supreme Court. You will be glad that this is a Nigerian Supreme Court.
But what are those things that were introduced into the new court room that made it world class?
I am not an architect or structural engineer but an ordinary layman. There is no word I can use to describe it for you other than to advise you to go and see for yourself in order to appreciate what we are saying.
In the area of the library, you said there was transformation…(cuts in, again)
Yes, it was a section of the library that was meant for everybody to visit and read. It was not effectively utilised. So, he transformed the whole place and has transformed it to a proper usage.
Did he buy more books or what?
No, it is not a matter of books. What I was saying was that the place that was used as library was almost abandoned. Only a section was being used. The other space was just there, in disuse. He now realised that there was need to put it into a proper usage and he carved out a good chunk and transformed it to mediation centre.
There was one thing I forgot to mention. You know litigation is very central to the court. The litigation registry has been transformed to an electronic office. If you see the process registry, you will appreciate what this gentleman has done for the court?
Is it that they are no longer transacting business in hard copy or what?
I am not a lawyer for me to describe the change that has taken place. If you see the litigation director, he will be able to explain the transformation that has taken place to modernise the litigation process.
The kind of transformation that is taking place here on daily basis, you will get somewhere today, the next time you are visiting, you discover it has changed completely. You are here, because there are so many things that are taking place, you will be lost. I don’t know the miracle he used to do all of these things.
Could it be that the allocation of the Supreme Court is far better than what it used to be?
To the best of my knowledge, he has gotten less than what we used to get. It is just that he is a manager. He is a manager of resources, a focused gentleman. He knows what he wants and he knows how to use the minimum resources to maximise results. He is just a wonderful human being.
You told me when you came across the CJN. You have not told me when you knew the CR?
The Chief Registrar came in as Special Assistant to the honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi. It was at the point of his retirement that he recommended him for appointment as deputy chief registrar. Maybe he realised the talents in the gentleman. That was how he came in. He appointed him as DCR before his exit.
Do you have any close working relationship with him?
You know at the time he came, he was directly attached to the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria. I was writing speeches for the CJN then. He was a lawyer. He knew what he could tap from the gentleman. He knew what he was getting from the gentleman. I was not closely relating with him. But I was closely relating to the CJN because I was the one doing his speech. I was writing speech for him.
His achievement is unprecedented in the history of this court.
THE JUSTICE MAHMUD’S COURT AND ITS CHARACTER
On November 20, 2014, first female Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mariam Aloma Muhktar handed over the baton of leadership in the nation’s judiciary to the most senior justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
The exercise followed the approval of a considered recommendation by the National Judicial Council (NJC) for the exalted seat by former President Jonathan Goodluck
Justice Muhktar bowed out of the bench for clocking the mandatory retirement age of 70 years.
Justice Mahmud whose appointment was approved by President Jonathan Goodluck was sworn into office on November 20, 2014.
THE CHARACTER OF JUSTICE MOHAMMED’S COURT
The new CJN took over a Supreme Court that was composed of 14 justices excluding himself at the time.
Although section 230 (2) allows appointment of a Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and a maximum of 21 justices into the Supreme Court, only the CJN and 14 other justices composed the Supreme Court of Nigeria under the leadership of Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
Before the Justice Mahmud’s Court, there were times, particularly between 1990 and 1992 when the number of serving justices of the court oscillated between 11 and 13.
The composition of the Supreme Court at any time, however, is governed by constitutional and other statutory provisions.
According to Dr Mojeed Alabi, “at the inception in 1954, the Federal Supreme Court was to consist of the Chief Justice, two Federal Judges or such greater number as might be prescribed by the Federal legislature and such number of acting Federal Judges as might be appointed under section 139 (3) of the 1954 Constitution.
“Under the 1960 Constitution, the composition of the Supreme Court was slightly modified as the constitution provided for a Chief Justice of the Federation and not less than three justices.
“The 1963 Constitution also modified the composition to include a Chief Justice of the Federation and not less than five justices even though the Supreme Court Act of 1960 provided that number of Supreme Court justices shall be nine.
“Two Acts of the Federal Parliament passed in 1964 increased the minimum to eight. It was however raised to ten in 1977 and twelve in 1979.
“Under the 1979 Constitution, the maximum number of justices was increased to 15 excluding the CJN,” he added.
But with the promulgation of Decree 24 which heralded the 1999 Constitution, the membership of the Supreme Court was increased to a maximum of 21 justices excluding the CJN.
But since the 1999 Constitution came into operation, the number of justices of the Supreme Court including the CJN, rarely exceeds 15 or falls below 12 while there has been a floodgate of cases including appeals from regular courts, election tribunals and constitutional matters without any push by successive leadership of the apex court to appoint more justices into the court.
A former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais shed light on why successive leadership of the court had never mounted pressure on the executive to appoint more judges into the apex court thus: “It is convenience. In the United States, they have only nine justices of the Supreme Court. And they do everything. The nine sit always.
“But in our case, the reason why people will like to see more justices is because they feel cases are not moving. But the problem is not that. The real problem is from the Court of Appeal. If you allow every case in the Court of Appeal to come to the Supreme Court, whether full case or interlocutory, you are overloading the Supreme Court like I just explained to you.
“And those who drafted our constitution envisage a Supreme Court sitting in one panel.
“Why can it sit simultaneously in two or more panels?
“There is good reason for that. Remember I told you that the United States has nine Supreme Court judges. So, there, they knew what they did yesterday, what they are doing today and perhaps what they would do tomorrow. You would not have conflicting judgments.
“But if you have panels of the Supreme Court sitting at the same time, apparently, one panel may not know what the other panel is doing. And you are likely to have conflicting decisions. And if you have conflicting decisions, it has terrible effects on the whole system.
“If you go to a lawyer for advice, he will tell you that Supreme Court has expressed two different opinions. So, I don’t know which one will apply to your case which is not helpful to the client.
“On the other hand, for the lower courts, if the Supreme Court decides a point, the other courts below are supposed to follow. If you have conflicting judgments and you are a judge, how do you get guided?
“Because it means you have to accept one judgment of the Supreme Court and reject another. That affects also the system.
“This is why as justice of the Supreme Court, we are not interested in getting more justices for the Supreme Court.
“ It will not solve the problem, rather it will create more problems. This is why deliberately the justices of the Supreme Court do not clamour for more judges.
Even during the administration of Justice Mahmud Mohammed, the membership of the court hovered between 13 and 15 notwithstanding the fact that the 1999 Constitution provided for a maximum of 22 justices including the CJN.
Specifically, the Justice Mahmud Mohammed’s court, at inception was made up of 14 justices excluding himself while the membership hovered between 12 and 13 all through his tenure which spanned November 20, 2014 and November 10, 2016.
Until November 6, 2016, the court was composed of 13 justices excluding the CJN while two more justices, Ejembi Eko and Amina Augie, were appointed and sworn into office on November 7, 2016 which increased the membership of the court to 15.
It is however important to point out that two of the 15 justices had been placed on indefinite suspension, implying that the court is presently composed of 13 justices including the CJN. The number of justices of the court will again drop to 12 on Thursday, November 10, when the outgoing CJN, Justice Mahmud, would have bowed out of the bench for clocking the mandatory retirement age of 70 years.
But two more justices: Sidi Dauda Bage (North-Central) and Paul Adamu Galinje (North-East) who were screened by the Senate on Wednesday might soon join them when they are done with their appointment process.
Nevertheless, the justices that actively served on the Supreme Court bench during Justice Mahmud Mohammed era otherwise called The Mahmud’s Court however included the following: Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, John Fabiyi, Coomasie, Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, Galadima, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, Mary Ukaego Odili, Olukayode Ariwoola, Musa Dattijo Muhammad, Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, Kumai Bayang Akaahs, Kudirat Motonmori Kekere-Ekun, John Inyang Okoro, Chima Centus Nweze and Amiru Sanusi, even though three of them had retired.
|S/N||Names||Date of birth||Year of Elevation||Retirement||Years Spent||Qualification||State of Origin||Geo Zone||School Attended|
|1||Mahmud Mohammed||10-11-46||2005||2016||11||LLB, BL
|Taraba||North East||ABU 1970|
|2.||Walter Onnoghen||22-12-50||2005||2020||11||LLB (1970)
|Cross River||South South||Legon 1977|
|3.||Ibrahim Tanko||31-12-53||2007||2023||9||LLB (1980)
|4.||Muntaka Coomasie||10-2-46||2008||2016||8||LLB 1976||Kaduna||North West||ABU
|6||Suleiman Galadima||10-10-46||2010||2016||6||LLB (1977)
|7.||Sylvester Ngwuta||1951||2011||2021||5||LLB (1977)
|8.||Mary Odili||12-05-52||2011||2022||5||LLB (1976)
|11||Clara Ogunbiyi||27-02-48||2012||2018||4||DIP (1971)
|12.||Bayang Akaahs||12-12-49||2012||2019||4||LLB (1973)
|13||Kudirat Keker-Ekun||07-05-58||LLB (1980)
|14||Inyang Okoro||07-07-59||2014||2019||2||Akwa Ibom||South
|15||Centus Nweze||25-09-58||2018||2||LLB, LLM, PHD||Enugu||South East||UNN|
|16||John Afolabi||25-11-45||2009||2015||6||LLB (1969)||Kogi||North Central||ABU|
|17||Amiru Sanusi||1950||2015||2828||1||LLB (1977)||Katsina||North West||ABU|
A close look at the table above and the profiles of the individual justices as captured hereunder show that the court was peopled by justices who had vast experience both in the bar and on the bench and were all appointed during the on-going Fourth Republic by the democratically elected governments of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007), late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (2007-2010) and the immediate past President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (2010-2015).
All the appointors—Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Goodluck, belonged to former ruling political party.
Besides, all the justices with the exception of one, Justice Onnoghen, graduated from various prestigious universities in Nigeria between 1970 and 1980. At least eight of the 17 justices captured supra finished from the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, two from UNN, two from UNILAG, another two from University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and another one from Bayero University.
Although the data above showed that some of them also attended universities abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom, to acquire Master’s degree and other professional certificates, in various esoteric areas of law, all of them with the exception of Justice Walter Onnoghen acquired their first degrees in Law from Nigerian Universities.
Only Justice Onnoghen from the pack did his Law degree at the University of Ghana, Legon. But even at that, Justice Onnoghen came back to Nigeria to join his colleagues at the Nigerian Law School to prepare himself for his career on the bench.
Unlike the administration of Justices Adetokunboh Ademola, Mohammed Bello, Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, Alfa Modibbo Belgore and Idris Legbo Kutigi which paraded a large chunk if not totally all justices who trained abroad, The Justice Mahmud’s Court can safely be called a ‘Made in Nigeria’ Supreme Court.
In the area of academic qualification, Justice Mahmud’s Court was also also fantastic. It was packed with justices with enviable academic degrees.
Two of the justices, Ibrahim Tanko and Centus Nweze, paraded the highest academic qualification of PhD in Law.
Four others had Master’s degree in either pure Law or Criminology while so many others had various postgraduate degrees in specialised areas of law.
All of them, as well, had attended various workshops and trainings both in Nigeria and abroad to update their knowledge of law.
Indeed, the Justice Mahmud’s Court appears to parade the most highly educated bunch of justices since inception, who, indeed, pronounced admirably on various issues submitted to the court.
The statistics from the table above also showed that of the 17 justices that actively served on the bench during the era of Justice Mahmoud, three of the court’s membership: Justices Mahmud himself, Ibrahim Tanko and Clara Ogunbiyi were appointed from the North East; three of them: Justices Dattijo, Fabiyi and Galadima were appointed from the North Central while three justices were also appointed from the North West—Justices Akaahs, Sanusi and Coomasie.
Also appointed into the apex court bench were three justices from the South East: Justices Sylvester Ngwuta, Mary Odilli and Centus Nweze. Three others were also from the South West including Justices Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola and Kudirat Kekere-Ekun while South South had just two on the Supreme Court bench during the era. They were Justices Onnoghen and Inyang John Okoro.
Mahmud’s Court, it appeared, was composed in sync with the provision of section 14 (3) which commanded that the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no dominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.
Legal pundits were of the view that Justice Mahmud’s Court was well composed on various counts and was blessed with an apolitical leadership of Justice Mohammed which assisted to stabilise the nation’s democracy between 2004 and 2016.
BRIEF PROFILE OF THE JUSTICES
Hon. Justice W.S. Nkanu Onnoghen CFR
Hon. Justice W.S. Nkanu Onnoghen was born on December 22, 1950 at Okurike Town, Biase L.G.A. of Cross Rivers State.
He attended the Presbyterian Primary School, Okurike Town between 1959 and 1965.
He later proceeded to Accra, Ghana to attend Odorgorno Secondary School, Adabraka, Accra, Ghana between 1967 and 1972 for his West African Examination Council (WAEC) Exams.
He was at Accra Academy, Accra Ghana between 1972 and 1974 for his WAEC (A-Levels) before proceeding to the University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana between 1974 and 1977 to obtain his Bachelor of Law Degree (LL.B (Hons)) and graduated with 2nd Class Upper Division.
He attended the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos between 1977 and 1978 for his B.L certificate.
His professional career began at the Lagos State Ministry of Justice where he was a pupil counsel between 1978 and 1979.
He left the ministry into private practice.
Specifically, in 1979, he was a partner in the law firm of Effiom Ekong & Company, Calabar . He was there till 1988 when he established his own chamber in Calabar–Walter Onnoghen & Associates.
He operated the chamber for about two years when he was appointed into the Cross River high court bench in 1989.
He was there till 1988. During the period, he also served in various capacities.
For instance, he was appointed and he did serve as the Chairman, Cross Rivers State Armed Robbery and Fire Arms Tribunal between 1990 and 1993; Chairman, Judicial Enquiry into the Crisis between Student of the University of Calabar and Obufa Esuk Orok Community in Calabar in 1996 and Chairman, Failed Bank Tribunal, Ibadan Zone in 1998.
In 1998, Justice Onnoghen was elevated to the Court of Appeal where he served till 2005 before his elevation to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
He was also appointed into the Supreme Court bench by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
He is also a Fellow of the Chattered Institute of Arbitrators.
Hon. Justice W.S. Nkanu Onnoghen had attended several conferences and seminars around the world. He is a member of the Body of Bencher and Life Bencher.
By tradition, he is to take over from the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed and he did take over on November 10, 2016 as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad CFR
Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad was born on December 31, 1953 at Doguwa – Giade, Giade LGA of Bauchi State.
After his secondary education at Government Secondary School, Azare in 1973, he proceeded to the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria popularly called ABU for his Bachelor of Law degree which he obtained in 1980. He later got his LL.M in 1984 and Ph.D in Law in 1998 from the same University.
He rose through the rank to become a justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
He began his career on the bench in 1982 as a Magistrate Grade II in 1982. He served in that capacity till 1984 when he was elevated as Magistrate Grade I & Ag. Snr Magistrate Grade II. He held that position till 1986.
Between 1989 and 1991, he served as Deputy Chief Registrar/Chief Magistrate at the Federal Capital Territory High Court. He was later elevated to the Bauchi State Sharia Court of Appeal as a judge (Kadi) in 1991. He was there till 1993 when he came to the Court of Appeal.
Dr Justice Muhammad was at the Court of Appeal till 2006 when the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him into the Supreme Court bench and was sworn in on January 7, 2007.
Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court (JSC) in 2006 and sworn in on 7th January, 2007.
Justice John Afolabi Fabiyi
He is a Nigerian jurist and Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He was formerly a Justice of the Nigerian court of appeal
Justice Fabiyi was born on November 25, 1945 in Kogi State, North-Central Nigeria. In 1969, he received a bachelor’s degree in Law from Ahmadu Bello University and was called to bar in 1970 after he graduated from the Nigerian Law School.
He began his career at Noel Gery & Co, a law firm in Kano State before he joined the Kwara State Judiciary as Magistrate and rose to the position of High Court Judge in the same state.
In 1994, he was transferred to Anambra State where he served as Chairman of Election petition tribunal for four years.
In 1998, he was appointed to the bench of the Nigerian Court of Appeal as Justice and in 2006, he rose to the position of Judge of the Court of Appeal in Ibadan. He served in that capacity for three years before he was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2009 as Justice, the same year he bagged a National honour, Commander of Order of the Niger, awarded by the Federal Government of Nigeria, decorated by Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Fabiyi was on the panel of the Supreme Court in which Chief Bode George was discharged and acquitted of the fraud charges leveled against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. He was also on the panel of the Supreme Court that affirmed Ayodele Fayose as the governor elect of Ekiti State in the June 21, 2014 governorship election.
Hon. Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour
Hon. Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour was born into the famous family of Hon. Justice Chief Akinwunmi R.W Rhodes-Vivour (deceased) of Lagos Island, Lagos state on March 22, 1951.
His Lordship had his basic educational background in Nigeria, where he got his LL.B (Hons) from the University of Lagos in 1974 and B.L at the Nigeria Law School in 1975. In 1983, his Lordship travelled to Chicago, U.S.A for Advanced course in Legislative Drafting and also got Certificate in Legislative Drafting in School of Law, Nairobi, a course conducted under the auspices of Commonwealth Programme in 1979.
Hon. Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour had served at the Lagos State judiciary and at national level.
He actually began his law career as a Pupil State Counsel in 1975 with Lagos State Government, where he rose through the ranks to the position of Director of Public Prosecution in 1989.
He remained on the hot seat till 1994 when he was appointed into the bench as a Lagos High Court Judge in 1994. He was promoted to the Court of Appeal in 2005 and was sworn in as Justice of Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2010.
He was also on International and Foreign posting in 2008, where he was on secondment from the Nigeria Government to the Sierra Leone Judiciary as Justice of the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone.
Justice Rhodes-Vivour had served as a member of many national assignments such as: Election Petition Tribunal, Rivers and Imo States in 1999, Election Petition Tribunal, Kwara and Anambra States 2003-2004, Election Petition Tribunal, Edo State between 2005 and 2006, Member Election Appeal Tribunal, Oyo, Ogun and Osun States 2009.
He had also attended several conferences within and outside Nigeria. For instance, he was a delegate and repourture at the all Nigerian Judges Conferences, Abuja in 2001 and a delegate at the Reform of Criminal Justice System at The Hague, Netherland 2003.
Justice Rhodes-Vivour had written and delivered several papers which include: “Institution of Criminal proceedings” delivered at the Training programme for the newly appointed Judges of Lagos State in 2001; ‘Fair Hearing, Law and Practice’ delivered at the Zonal Workshop For Customary Court Judges in Southern Zone organised by the National Judicial Institute in June 2001; ” Nigeria Judiciary in the 21st century: The Expectations”, delivered at the Nigeria Judges Conference in 2011; and a paper titled ‘Law and Social Change’ presented at the 2012 Ogun State Judges’ Conference in October 2012, among others.
His Lordship’s philanthropic gestures and his dedication to justice, law and order in the society and his invaluable service to humanity had been recognised. He has got several meritorious awards. For instance, he was a recipient of the Lagos State Judiciary Merit Award 2003. He was also honoured by Lagos State Government for outstanding contribution to the Lagos State Ministry of Justice 2003. He was also given the prestigious Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria CFR in 2012.
His Lordship is a member of some notable clubs and professional associations. He is a lover of sport movies and documentaries, and he enjoys reading, and his happily married with children.
Hon. Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta
Hon. Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta was born in 1951 in Amofia-Ukawu, Onicha Local government Ebonyi State.
His lordship had his basic education in the Eastern part of Nigeria and got his LLB in University of Ife (Now Obafemi Awolowo University). lle-ife in 1977 and BL at the Nigerian law school in 1978.
Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, is an hard working and dedicated public servant, who was a primary school teacher, far back as 1966. He became a clerical officer (Account Ministry of Education in (Divisional School Board, Afikpo) August 1971.
He started his career when he was deployed as the state counsel at the Ministry of Justice, Oturkpo, Benue State, during his National Youth Service Programme between August 1978 and October 1979.
As soon as he was called to the bar in 1978, he started his private legal practice at Abakaliki in July 1978. He remained in private practice till October 1995 when he was appointed a judge of the High Court in Abia State in October 1995. He remained on the Abia high court bench until May 22, 2003 when he was elevated to the Court of Appeal. He was finally sworn-in as Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in May 2011.
His lordship was the chairman of judicial panel of inquiry into the Obegu Enyibichirikwo Disturbance between 1997 and 1998 and has been a member of several Election Petition Tribunal, Governorship and legislative House Election Petition Tribunal; Nasarawa State held at Lafia in February 1999, National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal Plateau State held at Jos in April 1999, among others.
He had attended several seminars within and outside Nigeria, and also presented several papers including: “Elements of Good Brief Writing” delivered on 9th November, 2005 on prosecution of Appeals for legal officers in Delta State Ministry of justice; “The Importance of Locus standi and Jurisdiction to the Dispensation of justice in Nigeria and effect of same where Absent” delivered at a Law Dinner organised by Law Students’ Association of Nigeria, Ebonyi State University Chapter, Abakaliki on 17th August 2007.
He had received several awards such as Human Rights Awards by Human Rights Commission, Ebonyi State, on the World Human Right Day in December 2000, Kwame Nkrumah Leadership Award 2011/2012 by West African Students Union Parliament on 25th April, 2012, and Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) 2012. Hon. Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta is happily married with children
Hon. Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili
Justice Mary Ukaego Odili was born on May 12, 1952 at Amudi Obizi, Ezinitte – Mbaise L.G.A. of Imo State.
She attended various primary schools including St Benedict’s Primary School, Obizi Ezinitte, St Michael’s Primary School, Umuahia, St Agnes Primary School, Maryland, Lagos and Our Lady of Apostles Primary School, Yaba, Lagos between 1959 and 1965.
She also attended various secondary schools including Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School, Yaba, Owerri Girls Secondary School, Owerri, Mbaise Girls Secondary School, Mbaise and the Queen of the Rosary College, Onitsha between 1965 and 1972. She later proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (Enugu Campus) and obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Law (LL.B (Hons)) in 1976. She attended the Nigerian Law School in 1977 for her B.L certificate.
She started her career as a Pupil State Counsel at the Ogun State Ministry of Justice, Abeokuta in 1977. She later moved to the old Bendel State Ministry of Justice in Benin in 1978 also as pupil state counsel where she was elevated into the magistracy bench as Magistrate Grade III in Benin and served there till 1979. She also served as Chairman, Juvenile Court in Benin. She moved to Rivers State judiciary in the same 1979 and was appointed as Magistrate Grade II. She held that position till 1981 in Rivers when she was elevated as Magistrate Grade I, Chief Magistrate Grade I in 1981. She lasted on the seat till 1992.
In 1992, Justice Mary Odili became a high court judge in Rivers State. She served on the high court bench for over a decade before she was further elevated to the Court of Appeal bench in 2004. She was at the intermediate appellate court in Abuja till 2010 when she was moved to the Kaduna division of the court as its presiding justice. Hon. Justice Mary Ukaego Odili was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (JSC) on 23rd June, 2011.
Hon. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola
Justice Ariwoola was born to the Ariwoola family of Iseyin over 60 years ago in Oyo State
Mr Justice Ariwoola 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 Laws degree with honors 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 thereafter.
He started his judicial career at the Ministry of Justice, Akure, Ondo State as a State Counsel while doing his National Youth Service (NYSC) and later as Legal Officer in the Ministry of Justice of his home state, Oyo State until 1988 when he voluntarily left the official bar of the State Civil Service for private practice. His Lordship 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. 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. His Lordship was first appointed a Judge of Superior Court of record in Oyo State in 1992 from private legal practice.
His Lordship must have something to do, in a way, with figure 2. While His Lordship was born on August 22, he was sworn in as a Judge of the High Court November 2, 1992, as a Justice of the Court of Appeal (JCA) on November 22, 2005. He served as Justice of Court of Appeal in Kaduna, Enugu and Lagos Divisions. He was later elevated to the bench of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (JSC) on November 22, 2011.
Justice Ariwoola served as Chairman, Board of Directors, Phonex Motors Ltd – one of Oodua Investment conglomerate between 1988 and 1992. Chairman, Armed Robbery Tribunal, Oyo State between May 1993 and September, 1996 when he was posted out of the headquarters, Ibadan to Saki High Court. His Lordship served on the Election Tribunals in Zamfara and Enugu States in 1999. He also served on election appeal courts in Port-Harcourt, Enugu, Benin, Yola and Ilorin at various times.
His Lordship has attended many International and National conferences and workshops in France, Atlanta Georgia, UK and Dubai, UAE.
Mr Justice Ariwoola is happily married with children and he loves reading, listening to good music, photography and shopping.
Hon. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad
Hon.Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad was born on 27th October,1953 in Chanchaga Local Government Area in Minna, Niger State.
He did his basic education at Native Authority School, Minna between 1960 and 1966; secondary school education at Shelkh Sabbah College (now Sardauna Memorial Secondary School) Kaduna 1967-1971, and he proceeded to Abdullahi Bayero College (now Bayero University) Kano where he ran a pre-degree programme between 1972 and 1973. He began his degree programme in 1973 and eventually got his LLB (Hons) at Ahmadu Bello University (Faculty of Law) Zaria in 1976, and his BL at the Nigerian Law School in 1977. He proceeded to Warwick University Coventry UK for his LLM programme which successfully ran between 1982 and 1983, and also Institute of Advanced Certificate in Practice procedure.
Hon. Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi
Hon. Justice (Mrs). Clara Bata Ogunbiyi was born on February 27, 1948, at Lassa, Borno State. She had her primary education in Borno State.
Her Ladyship started her legal career with Diploma in Law in Ahamadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria in October 1969. She completed the programme in June 1971. She returned for her L.L.B Hons in the same institution between October 1972 and June 1975. She was called to the bar in 1976.
She did her mandatory National Service (NYSC) between July 1976 and June 1977. She obtained a Master degree in Criminology at University of Hull (United Kingdom) in 1982 and Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) University of Maiduguri in 2002.
Her Ladyship commenced her Civil Service Career as a Clerical Officer with Northern Nigerian Marketing Board, Kaduna in November 1967. She was there till September 1969. She later became Assistant Registrar of the High Court of Justice in Maiduguri October 1971. She was there briefly till September 1972. She served as a youth corps member at the Ministry of Justice Kaduna State from July 1976 till June 1977. Thereafter she rose to higher positions.
While in Ministry of Justice, she progressively rose through the ranks to Senior State Counsel in August 1979. Thereafter, she became Senior State Counsel I & II August 1979 – January 1983. Then from 1st February 1983 till November 1984, she held the position of Deputy Director of Public Prosecution (DDPP). She was further appointed as Director of Civil Litigation in December 1984, a position she held till January 1987.
Justice Ogunbiyi was appointed as a High Court Judge of Borno State Judiciary making her the first lady Judge at Borno State and the entire Northeast Sub region. She was appointed Justice of the Court of Appeal October in 2002. She also served as presiding justice, Court of Appeal in Ibadan, Lagos and Jos divisions. She was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in July 2012.
Her Ladyship has had several publications, among which are: Sentencing and Prison System in England and Wales, for the award of Masters Degree in Criminology at the University of Hull – England in March 1982. The Concept of Fundamental Human Rights to Education in Nigeria (being a thesis submitted to the school of post graduate studies University of Maiduguri in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the award of a postgraduate Diploma in Education in January 2002.
Her Ladyship belongs to several cubs and professional associations and was the 1st woman Judge in the North Eastern Sub – Region. Hon. Justice (Mrs). Clara Bata Ogunbiyi (JSC) is happily married with children and enjoys housekeeping, gardening, walking, reading and engaging in religious activities, adventurous and humanitarian activities. She has travelled far and wide, to virtually all continents of the world.
Hon. Justice Kumai Bayang Akaahs OFR
Hon. Justice Kumai Bayang Akaahs was born on December 12, 1949 in Kpak-Kagoro in Kaura Local Government Area, Kaduna State.
His Lordship attended St. Joseph’s Primary School, Kagoro from January 1956 to December 1962; St. John Vianney Seminary Barkin Ladi from January 1963 to February 1966 and completed his Secondary School in St. Mary’s (now Government Secondary School) F\Kaje, Zonkwa before proceeding to St. John’s (Rimi) College, Kaduna for his Higher School Certificate in Education (HSC) from January 1968 to December 1969. He later gained admission into Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in September 1970, where he got his LLB in June 1973. He got his BL in 1975 at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos.
Soon after he was called to the bar, Justice Akaahs served as State Counsel II at the North Central State Ministry of Justice Kaduna in 1975. In 1977, he moved up the ladder as he was named Senior State Counsel II in the same Ministry of Justice, Kaduna. He later became Principal State Counsel at the Ministry of Justice Kaduna in January 1980, a position he held for just six months before he moved into private practice.
His Lordship therefore practised privately between middle of 1980 and May 1986 when he was finally appointed as Judge of Kaduna State Judiciary on May 6, 1986. He was appointed Justice Court of Appeal on 21st November 1998, and in September 2012, became Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Justice Akaahs has attended several conferences and seminars within and outside Nigeria, among which are All Nigerian Judges Conference Abuja in 1988; International Conference on the Criminal Justice System in Sydney Australia in 1989; International Conference Reform on Criminal Justice Scotland in U.K. 2005 and International Conference on Arbitration in Mauritius in April 2011.
His Lordship’s dedication to justice and order in the society and his service to humanity had been noticed, as he had received several awards such as Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 2010 and Kwame Nkrumah Servant Leadership Gold Award by West African Students Union Parliament (WASUP) in 2012.
His Lordship is happily married with children and enjoys reading and travelling.
Hon. Justice Kudirat M.O Kekere-Ekun
Justice Kudirat Motonmori Olatokunbo KEKERE-EKUN popularly addressed as KMO Kekere-Ekun was born on May 7, 1958.
She obtained her LL.B in 1980 from the University of Lagos and a Master Degree in Law from the London School of Economic and Political Science in November 1983. She was called to the Nigerian Bar on July 10, 1981.
She started her judicial career in Lagos as Senior Magistrate Grade II with Lagos State Judiciary. She rose through the rank to become justice of the Supreme Court. As a High Court Judge, her Lordship served as Chairman, Robbery and Firearms Tribunal, Zone II, Ikeja from November 1996 May 1999. She also served as a member of the Court of Appeal ICT Committee from June 2011 till July 2013.
Her Lordship has attended numerous courses and seminars within and outside Nigeria, such as Induction Course for Judicial Officers organized by the National Judicial Institute in Abuja in May 1997; Case Management and Court Administration Training Workshop organized by the National Centre for State Courts in June 2001; ICT Training Course (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) in Dubai UAE in July 2012.
From her wealth of knowledge on diverse areas of Law and national issues, Justice Kekere-Ekun has delivered various papers, among which are “Delay in Election Tribunal Proceedings: Solutions “delivered at the All Nigeria Judges Conference, Abuja between 16th- 20th November, 2009 and “Law: A Tool for Social Change” delivered at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Ibadan Branch Law Week on 30th November 2010.
Her Lordship is a member of some notable clubs and professional associations, and has received several merit awards.
She enjoys playing the piano, reading, and swimming. She is happily married with children.
Hon. Justice John Inyang Okoro
Hon. Justice John Inyang Okoro was born on July 7, 1959. He is an indigene of Akwa-Ibom State in Nigeria.
He is a Nigerian jurist and Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Prior to becoming a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, he was a Judge of the High Court of Akwa-Ibom State from 1998 till he was elevated to the position of Justice of the Court of Appeal in 2006. He was made a justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and his appointment was confirmed by the Senate in October 2013. He was sworn in on November 15, 2014 by Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, the former Chief Justice of Nigeria
Hon. Justice Chima Centus Nweze
Hon. Justice Chima Centus Nweze, a Nigerian jurist and Justice of the Supreme Court, was born on September 25, 1958. He is an indigene of Enugu State, in the eastern part of Nigeria.
He had his secondary school education at St John Cross Seminary, Nsukka where he obtained his West African School Certificate in 1977. He proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he bagged a Bachelor’s degree in Law. He was thereafter called to the Nigerian Bar. Hon. Justice Chima Centus Nweze further earned a Master’s degree and Doctor of philosophy in law in that sequence. Such was his educational standing before he was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Prior to becoming a Supreme Court Justice, he was a Justice of the Court of Appeal, he was also a DFID consultant on Legal and Justice Sector reform (Drivers of Change), Member, DFID Access to Justice programme, Enugu State, Team Member, Enugu State Justice Sector Strategic plan, amongst others. He was also formerly a Visiting Associate Professor of Law, Ebonyi State University, distinguished scholar, Pro Bono, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Convener/ Coordinator, LLM (International Human Rights Law) programme, University of Nigeria from 2000 to 2008, Visiting Human Rights Scholar, University of Nigeria amongst other very distinguished standings. Hon. Justice Chima Centus Nweze was sworn in on October 29, 2014 by Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, the former Chief Justice of Nigeria as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Hon. Justice Amiru Sanusi
Hon. Justice Amiru Sanusi was born in February 1950. He is a Nigerian Jurist and Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He is an indigene of Katsina State. He bagged a Bachelors Degree in Law from the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1978. Prior to becoming a Justice of the Supreme Court, he served as a judge in his home state, Katsina from 1990 to 1998, before he was promoted to the Court of Appeal in December 1998. It is worthy to note that he has the National award of Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeri(OFR). Hon. Justice Aminu Sanusi, OFR was sworn-in by the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council, Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed, GCON, on Thursday, the 14th day of May, 2015 at 11 am in the Supreme Court Complex.
Hon Justice Muntaka Coomassie
Justice Muhammed Saifullahi Muntaka-Coomassie retired from the Supreme Court Bench February 10, having attained the mandatory retirement age of 70 for justices of the appellate courts.
Born on February 10, 1946 in Zaria, Kaduna State, Justice Muntaka Coomassie initially trained to be a teacher and taught Arabic and English Language in Kaduna and Zaria before voluntarily bowing out of the teaching profession as the Principal of Provincial Arabic School in Fada, Zaria, Kaduna State, after a decade spent in the profession.
He went to obtain his Law degree (LL.B) in 1976 from the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and was called to the Nigerian Bar, after attending the Nigerian Law School, Lagos in 1977.
As a State Counsel, he served at the Ministry of Justice Kwara State and Kaduna State in various capacities.
Initially he was a magistrate in the Saminaka Magisterial District in August 1978 and a chief magistrate in 1981, Deputy Chief Registrar (CR) of the High Court of Kaduna State in 1986 and finally the CR in 1987. He was appointed a judge of the Kaduna High Court in November 1988.
Prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2008, he was at the Court of Appeal. He served in Port Harcourt, Jos, Abuja, Ilorin and Benin divisions.
He is a foremost expert and specialist in Islamic Law. He has a compelling knowledge of Islamic Law and he is a determined practitioner of his religion. Though not so many Islamic law matters got to the Supreme Court for determination, his Lordship contributed immensely to the propagation and development of Islamic Law and Case Law in Nigeria. He approached each case with much enthusiasm and dealt with the issues involved to the admiration of his fellow justices.
In the area of Criminal Law, he has used his insightful judgments to save accused persons who had been wrongfully condemned to death by the lower courts but who have appealed to the apex court.
His firm belief in the dispensation of justice in accordance with law can be easily discerned from several of his judgments; In M.W.T (Nig.) Ltd vs. P.T.F. (2007) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1058) 451 at 482, he commented on the duty imposed by law on a party claiming the award of special damages.
He opined thus: “The law, I think it goes without saying, is whoever wants special damages must endeavour to prove it strictly and specifically. There must be evidence in court to establish clearly that he suffered such damages as he claimed. In other words, the person claiming such special damages must establish his entitlements to that type of damages by credible evidence otherwise the general acceptable law of evidence as to proof by preponderance of weight usual in civil cases operate. I am fortified by the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Oshinjinrin v. Elias (1970) 1 All NLR 153 at 156 per Coker JSC.
“In fact, what is required is qualitative and credible evidence in order to establish entitlements to special damages. Proof however of general damages does not require the strictness in proof of special damages. The only requirement in the award of general damages is that such award shall not be manifestly too high or manifestly too little or not erroneously assessed.”
In a most illuminating manner, he posited as follows: “I must say, with tremendous respect, that the judgment of the lower court is a little bit confusing, and as it is, it may be very difficult for the respondent to execute the judgment and orders of the Court of Appeal. That being the case and this court being the final court of the land, something must be done to correct the situation. I invoke my powers under Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to correct the judgment of the lower court thus….”
Justice Muntaka-Coomassie has always maintained a pleasant and cordial relationship with the Bar. He was on 31st January, 2009, presented with an Award of Excellence by the Nigerian Bar Association, Kaduna Branch in recognition of his immense contributions to the development of the legal system.
Hon Justice Suleiman Galadima
Honorable Justice Suleiman Galadima was born in October 1946 at Nasarawa State. He attended the Katsina Secondary School, and proceeded to Government College Keffi in 1965. He got his LLB in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and in 1977 got his BL (Hons) at the Nigerian Law School in 1978. He also had his LLM in the University of Jos in 1985.
His Lordship worked as a revenue/legal officer with Customs and Excise Duties in 1969, and as Assistant Legal Aid Leader NYSC Anambra State. As State Counsel in the Ministry of Justice, he also functioned as Law Review Commission Secretary, Anambra State.
He became a Magistrate in July, 1978 and in March 1990, Hon. Justice Suleiman Galadima was appointed Attorney General and the Commissioner of Justice in Plateau state. Soon after, he became High Court Judge of Plateau State in May 1991, and later became the chief Judge of Nasarawa State in October 1996, at the creation of Nasarawa State. His Lordship was appointed Justice of the Court of Appeal on 9th December 1998, and was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court in 2010
His Lordship attended several global seminars within and outside Nigeria, such as 19th Bi-Annual International Bar Conference in New Delhi in India, Uk, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana Law conference in 1984, among others. His Lordship had received several meritorious award and national awards such as Achiever Awards 2003, Development Achievers Gold Award 2007, and Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) and Officer of the Order of Federal Republic (OFR) in 2011 respectively.
My Lordship is happily married with children. He enjoys reading, photography, swimming, hunting, farming, gardening, current affairs, cultural activities, reading of Islamic scriptures and documents.
- This is the beginning. Scroll to Part 2 to read the landmark achievements of Mohammed’s Court.