Foremost lawyer and prominent member of the inner bar, Aare Afe Babalola (SAN), on Sunday joined the league of stakeholders pushing for continued implementation of the tradition of appointing the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Babalola, in a write-up titled, “Appointment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria: Matters Arising,” argued that the tradition, which began in 1995, had brought stability to the judiciary and should not be tinkered with.
He spoke against the background of the delayed confirmation of Justice Walter Onnoghen, who is currently the most senior Supreme Court Justice, as the substantive CJN.
There had been a raging debate among stakeholders on whether or not the tradition of appointing the most senior Supreme Court Justice as the CJN should stop or continue.
One of the leading voices calling for the suspension of the tradition is Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), who argued that the practice had bred corruption and mediocrity.
However, Babalola warned against changing the practice.
He said, “The precedence of appointing the most senior jurist on the Supreme Court bench as the CJN should not be dispensed with as any departure from that time-tested practice is bound to rock the boat and we will all be worse for it.
“The appointment of the most senior Justice as the CJN, having become a norm and institutionalised, has continually fanned the embers of stability and autonomy of the Supreme Court. While the Court of Appeal has become an ever-flowing recruitment fountain for the Supreme Court, the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria has become the entitlement of the most senior Justice.
“This should remain so. The case of Honorable Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen cannot be different. If this time-honoured practice since 1995 has been followed, the current acrimony about the appointment of the next CJN would have been avoided.
“Fortunately, the acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), has forwarded the name of Honourable Justice Onnoghen to the Senate for confirmation as the arrowhead of Nigeria’s judiciary. Hopefully, the Senate will do justice to the matter with dispatch and lay the matter to rest finally.”