“Unexpected change is like a breath of fresh air – a little brisk at first, magic to the body and soul.” —Susan Wiggs
By Cosmas Omegoh
Last Wednesday, words filtered out that the Senate has confirmed Justice Olukayode Ariwoola as the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
Justice Arowoola was appointed to the position on acting capacity on June 27, this year, following the resignation of former Chief Justice, Muhammad Tanko.
Justice Tanko had cited health grounds as the reasons for his resignation.
But sources said that he was put under pressure following a protest letter bordering on their welfare and sundry issues addressed to him by 14 of his aggrieved other learned Justices.
Those who refused to accept health grounds cited by ex-CJN Tanko as the primary reason for his shock exit still insist that the protest of the 14 Justices represented a silhouette of the rot which the country’s apex court became under his watch.
However, a section of the populace was happy that Ariwoola’s confirmation did not follow the same path that of his predecessor, Walter Onnoghen, followed. Onnoghen’s confirmation took nearly a lifetime to come after long months of politicking. That signaled what to follow. It, therefore, didn’t surprise many that Onnoghen’s reign ended the way it did. The rest is now history.
When, therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari on July 25, transmitted a letter to the Senate, requesting Ariwoola’s confirmation as CJN, trend watchers waited with bathed breathe to see how things will pan out.
Then on Wednesday, Ariwoola was confirmed via a voice vote, after a screening exercise conducted by the Committee of the Whole.
As it turned out, news of Justice Ariwoola’s confirmation came through as one of those cheery vibes to come out of the upper legislative chambers in recent times
With his confirmation, therefore, Ariwoola mounted the mountain as the third Supreme Court Justice to occupy that position in the near eight years of Buhari’s administration. And what is more? He made history becoming the 22nd Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Shortly after he was enrobed, Ariwoola was reported to have in apparent appeal for understanding of the state of health of the Supreme Court, identified its many crying needs which ranged from lack of accommodation, inadequate funding, to inadequate manpower, among other things.
Laying particular emphasis on the paucity of manpower, Ariwoola said: “We are supposed to be 21 justices, but we are 13. We just discovered on Monday, when we started sitting, that 12 appeals were listed for justices to deal with.”
Then he tabled a passionate plea noting: “Many cases should not be allowed to come up to the Supreme Court. Many cases should be allowed to stop at the Appeal Court. It is only by constitutional amendment that that can happen.”
Observers believe that Ariwoola’s Wednesday’s inaugural statement showed he understands what the real issues in the Supreme Court are. They wish his appeal would be well received particularly by the political class which has the penchant for dragging matters as clear day light up to the Supreme Court – just to make a meal out of it all. And to his brother lawyers who have continued to see merits in matter where there is none, his appeal remained as germane as it could be.
Ever since Ariwoola was appointed in acting capacity, optimism has continuously been expressed in some quarters that his arrival was nothing short of timely. People continue to express regular confidence that though he might be encumbered to change the course of the wind, he would not at the same time be hamstrung to halt its glaring drift of the Supreme Court.
Many would contend that the Supreme Court they used to know in the past has changed in more ways than one.
For the ordinary man on the streets, his impression of the highest court in the land might now be much worse than anyone probably could have imagined.
Over the past three years, for instance, clear vibes from the apex judicial institution have not been good to the ears.
In particular, many Nigerians – the learned and the unlearned alike still lost at sea – are yet to understand the Supreme Court judgment in the governorship contest in Imo State. The wound it inflicted has refused to heal in the same way the controversy it generated is yet to settle.
Many who count that the rationale and judicial explanations so far copiously advanced to explain away that particular judgment, have continued to describe them as “Local Anastasia.”
Overall, many have been persuaded by their assessment of things rightly or wrongly to arrive at a definitive conclusion that the Supreme Court had before now, plummeted to the plains, only needing redemption.
It is against this backdrop that Ariwoola is being well spoken of as one in pole position to change the lengthy narratives at the Supreme Court.
He is being looked up to construct some proactive agenda that will in no time see positive reforms not only at the Supreme Court, but also in the entire judicial system.
Ariwoola, therefore, carries a big burden to clean the Augean stables of mistrust free-standing as tall as Mount Kilimanjaro.
At the moment, some judicial officers are not happy that cases linger at the court, although Ariwoola has bitterly complained about shortage of staff. Their expectations like those of every other person is that things will change as speedily as Ariwoola can change them.
As a part of the 14 officers who alerted former CJN Tanko of the plight of other justices, there is no need saying he already knows where the shoes of the Supreme Court pinches. Therefore, addressing the gaping needs of the justices which will expectedly shore up their motivation and moral is paramount.
That aside, some people conversant with the workings of the Supreme Court expect that going forward, “technical justice” should not and ought not to be seen replacing “substantive justice.”
They stop short of saying that this was the Achilles heels of the past regime.
Perhaps, stating this has become imperative given that in the coming months, the election season will throw tense and interesting matters. These will definitely see the political class mobbing the Supreme Court in their large numbers in apparent quest for justice as they seek to retrieve their “stolen mandate.”
In this light, many want to see Ariwoola gird his loins for the onerous tasks that lie ahead. And here, erecting a beacon of discipline which will in the long run shore up hope in the judicial system especially in the Supreme Court is a thing whose time has come. This is sure to change the course of things.
Indeed, Nigerians are inpatient to see the real change they wish for swirling all around them. It will definitely not be a bad idea if that will begin at the Supreme Court where Ariwoola currently holds sway.
Born on August 22, 1954, in Iseyin, Oyo State, Ariwoola is currently 68 years old. He will statutorily bow out at 70, being the ceiling for occupiers of his office.
He studied Law at University of Ife, Ile Ife, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, and was later called to the Nigerian Bar in 1981.
He worked as a judicial officer in Oyo State Ministry of Justice after his national service until 1988 when he veered into private practice.
He later worked as a lawyer in the Chambers of Chief Ladosu Ladapo (SAN) between October 1988 and July 1989. He left in 1989 to establish his own legal office, Olukayode Ariwoola & Co, based in Oyo town.
He got appointed in November 1992 as a Judge of Oyo State Judiciary and later served in various judicial positions.
Upon his elevation to the Court of Appeal, he served in Kaduna, Enugu and Lagos divisions, before moving up to the Supreme Court on November 22, 2011.