By Ise-Oluwa Ige
ABUJA—In what appears to be a historic observation, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, on Tuesday underscored the need to elevate more qualified justices to the Supreme Court to enhance disposal of pending appeals.
Justice Onnoghen made the remark in Abuja at the swearing-in of Uwani Abba-Aji as justice of the Supreme Court.
With Justice Abba-Aji joining the Supreme Court bench, the number of judicial officers at the apex court has moved to 16.
Section 230 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) created the Supreme Court of Nigeria prescribing appointment of not more than 21 justices to run the court as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.
But ever since 1999 when the Constitution of the Federal Republic came into effect, the apex bench has not had more than 17 justices as its full complement.
Successive heads of the court had never seen any reason for the upping of the number to 21 as prescribed by the Constitution even though some lawyers at some time had canvassed for it.
But Justice Onnoghen is presently raising the alarm on why the appointing authorities should do something about the number of justices appointed into the apex bench.
According to him, more than ever before, the docket of the apex bench is congested.
Hear him: “I issued a statement to the effect that the Supreme Court diary is full with appeals set for hearing up to the year 2021.
“Accordingly, I explained the import of the warning to mean that any matter that is assigned a date must be heard and determined one way or the other on that date.
“For appeals that may be discovered to have defects, I advised counsel to take the necessary steps to amend such defects before the due hearing dates.
“This means that everyone, including the Justices, more than anyone else, must come to the court fully prepared for the business of the day.
“What that means is that there is a lot of work waiting to be done here, especially with pre-election and post-election matters that will arise from the 2019 general elections.’’
He noted that with the retirement of Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi in February 2018, the number of justices of the court had dropped to 16, inclusive of the CJN.
According to him, there will be at least one more retirement within the year, which will further put pressure on the Bench considering the workload.
Mr Onnoghen said the promotion of Justice Abba-Aji to the bench of the apex court was timely and positive.
He said that Mr Abba-Aji’s elevation was due to his enviable work ethic and integrity, charging him to do more to leave his footprints on the sands of time in the court.
“I congratulate you on your appointment and I welcome you to the Bench of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“After 14 years of outstanding service at the Court of Appeal, it is only befitting that you are elevated to offer your services to the nation at the highest court of the land,’’ he said.
Mr Abba-Aji, until his elevation, was the presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna Division.
Justices and judges of the various courts, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, senior legal practitioners, officials of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) as well as other wishers, attended the ceremony.