From Godwin Tsa, Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad made history, yesterday, as the second Chief Justice of Nigeria(CJN) to have abruptly resigned from office.
Born on December 31, 1953 his resignation came about 18 months ahead of the mandatory retirement age of 70 years.
Although he cited health condition as grounds for his resignation, there are speculations that his decision may not be unconnected with raging crisis at the apex court.
In a protest letter, 14 Justices of the court had accused the CJN of corruption and other administrative lapses bordering on his ineptitude on issues such as judges’ welfare among others.
The letter which was leaked to the public further fueld the impasse between him and his brother Justices.
The crisis was further escalated by the ex-CJN who in his response to the memo accused his colleagues of dancing naked in the market square.
Daily Sun was told by competent sources of how the Senate and Body of Benchers had waded into the crisis between the aggrieved Justices of the Supreme Court and the retired jurist.
“Several meetings were held last week between the CJN and the 14 aggrieved justices in an attempt to resolve the crisis, but they all failed as the justices who threatened to embark on strike, insisted on a thorough and comprehensive investigations of the allegations.
“The Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, had directed the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to wade into the crisis on behalf of the upper Legislative Chamber.
“At the early stage of the crisis, the Emir of Lafia, Alhaji Sidi Bage Muhammed 1, who is a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, was invited to wade into the crisis but his efforts were unsuccessful, “ our sources revealed.
While further attributing Justice Tanko’s sudden resignation to the crisis at the apex court, another source disclosed that it got to a point where the 14 justices refused to honour further meetings with the former CJN.
The aggrieved “Lordships” had alleged serious infirmities and irregularities in administration and his commitment and loyalty to the nation’s judiciary.
Other issues were the non-signing of amended Court Rules, an abrupt stoppage of foreign workshops and training per annum for justices and no provision of qualified legal assistants.
The judges specifically questioned Justice Tanko’s rationale for discontinuing the nomination of justices for international seminars and training for justices on a yearly basis, accompanied by experienced legal assistants. This they said was a long consistent practice until his Lordship assumed head of the Judiciary
• Buhari warns judiciary
While swearing in Justice Olukayode Ariwoola as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) at short ceremony at the Council Chambers of the State House, President Muhammadu Buhari urged the judiciary not to fail Nigerians so as not to lose confidence in them.
Picking the gauntlet, Ariwoola assured that he would not fail Nigerians in his new assignment.
“What Nigerians expect from me is to comply, preserve and abide and protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And so be it. That is what I will do especially with the cooperation of my brother Justices of the Supreme Court. We shall not fail Nigerians.”
On how he intends to handle the controversy in the Supreme Court, he said: “There is no controversy in the Supreme Court. We are one with the Chief Justice. That’s why you heard the president said His Lordship is disengaging on the grounds of ill-health. No controversy we’re one.”
On welfare issues raised in the letter addressed, he said: “It was an internal memo of the court. It was not a petition. It was not a letter. It was addressed by the brother Justices of the Chief Justice and presented to him, His Lordship directly. There were issues to be resolved amongst justices.” Asked if those issues would be resolved under his leadership, he said: “Yeah, we’ve started resolving it.”
•NBA tasks new CJN on Judicial reforms
On its part, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) called for urgent reforms and cleansing of the Augean Stable in the nations judiciary.
In a statement, NBA President, Olumide Akpata, commended the immediate past CJN for his “lengthy service to the nation, and wished him quick recovery even as we pray for a well-deserved peaceful retirement.”
The body of lawyers, however, added that thehis resignation could not be divorced from the raging crisis in the Supreme Court with the 14 other Justices of the court accusing him of poor handling of the affairs of the court.
He said there was near-universal agreement that public confidence in the judiciary and indeed the legal profession is at an all-time low,
The NBA said the first tasks before the acting judge should include taking steps aimed at “urgent reforms in the Judiciary” and rebuilding “the almost dissipated confidence that Nigerians have in the Judiciary and the wider legal profession in Nigeria.”
Akpata said the association is “ready to work together with His Lordship (Mr Ariwoola) and the judiciary in cleansing the Augean stable and addressing the ills that have continued to plague not just the Judiciary but the entire legal profession.”
Oyo State Governor, ‘Seyi Makinde, described the Iseyin-born Ariwoola’s elevation as Acting CJN as a deserving development and reward for diligence, patriotism and service to the nation.
A statement by the Special Assistant (Print Media) to the governor, Moses Alao, quoted Governor Makinde as saying that he has no doubt that the jurist would restore the glory of Apex Court and the judiciary.
“I have no doubt that the new Acting CJN will turn around the fortunes of the judiciary and the apex court for good by bringing his wealth of experience to bear in restoring the glory of the judiciary.
“On behalf of the good people and government of Oyo State, I celebrate Justice Ariwoola and pray to God to grant him the needed enablements to succeed in the new office.”