Retired Nigerian Supreme Court Justice, Musa Dattijo, spews venom in valedictory speech
Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad, who recently retired from the Supreme Court after 40 years in the judiciary, has revealed that the Nigerian judiciary is not in good shape.
In a valedictory speech on Friday, Justice Dattijo accused the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) of abusing his power and deliberately excluding Igbo judges from the Supreme Court bench.
Justice Dattijo said that the CJN has absolute power over the National Judicial Council (NJC), the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), the National Judicial Institute (NJI), and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC).
This power, he said, allows the CJN to appoint judges and other judicial officials, as well as to control the judiciary’s budget.
Dattijo maintained that it is “dangerous” for democracy when the apex court is only composed of judges from South West, South-South, North West with none from the South-East.
Dattijo said now that he’s bowing out, the North-Central will now be left with no representation.
He accused the CJN of using this power to his advantage and the detriment of the judiciary.
According to him, Igbo judges were excluded from the Supreme Court bench even though the South-East region is entitled to seats on the bench.
Dattijo stressed that the absence of Igbo judges on the Supreme Court bench has undermined the representation of different ethnic groups in the judiciary and has weakened public confidence in the judiciary.
He noted that “to ensure justice and transparency in presidential appeals from the lower court, all geopolitical zones are required to participate in the hearing.
“It is therefore dangerous for democracy and equity for two entire regions to be left out in the decisions that will affect the generality of Nigerians. This is not what our laws envisaged”.
Dattijo noted that Justice Chima Centus Nweze died on July 29, 2023, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, died on July 7, 2021, and since then, no appointment has been made to fill the vacuum.
“The South East no longer has any presence at the Supreme Court” he said, adding “it has been two years and seven months since the previous justice from the South East died and no appointment was made”.
Dattijo further queried why the vacant position in the Supreme Court has not been filled.
“Also, it was clear ab-initio that I will be leaving the court this day on attaining the statutory age of 70. It is then not in doubt that there has been sufficient time for suitable replacements to have been appointed. This is yet to occur.
“It is evident that the decision not to fill the vacancies in the court is deliberate. It is all about the absolute powers vested in the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the responsible exercise of the same”, Dattijo said.
Speaking further on the powers of the CJN, he suggested that the absolute powers the office has over the National Judicial Council (NJC), Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), National Judicial Institute (NJI), the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee ( LPPC) which appoints Senior Advocate of Nigeria, can only breed corruption.
Being the next most senior justice of the apex court before today’s retirement, Dattijo explained that he was like a deputy governor who was not consulted by his principal over any decision.
“As chair of the NJC, FJSC, NJI and LPPC, appointments as council, board and committee members are at his pleasure. He neither confers with fellow justices not seeks their counsel or input on any matter related to these bodies. He has both the final and the only say. The CJN has power to appoint 80 percent of members of the council and 60 percent of members of FJSC. The same applies to NJI and LPPC.
“Such enormous powers are effortlessly abused. This needs to change,” he said, calling for the reduction of the CJN’s powers.
Dattijo added that the continued denial of the existence of this threatening anomaly weakens effective judicial oversight in Nigeria.
Dattijo also called for an inquiry into what the judiciary does with its funds.
“It is instructive to enquire what the judiciary also does with its allocations. Who is responsible for the expenditure? An unrelenting searchlight needs to be beamed to unravel how the sums are expended,” Dattijo said.
He pointed out that N130 billion was budgeted by the former President Muhammadu Buhari for the judiciary but wondered why the welfare of justices and officers is on the decline.
The retired justice faulted the salary arrangement wherein the Chief Registrar “earns N1.2 million per month” while justices “take home N751,000 in a month”.
“That the unjust and embarrassing salary difference between the justices and the Chief Registrar still abides remains intriguing to say the least. Valedictory session after valedictory session lapses and challenges that should be nipped are restated to no avail.
“Why the silence and seeming contentment?” Dattijo queried.
He faulted the appointment of children of justices as judges, adding the public must not be blamed for criticizing certain developments in the judiciary.
“It is asserted that the process of appointment to judicial positions are deliberately conducted to give undue advantage to the children, spouses and mistresses of serving and retired judges and managers of judicial offices.
“At the Court of Appeal, it is asserted, presiding justices are now being appointed out of turn. And there is the further issue of the unpredictable nature of recent decisions of the courts as well.
“A number of respected senior members of the bar inter alia, citing the Ahmed Lawan, the former President of the Senate and Imo governorship appeals, claim that decisions of even the apex court have become unpredictable. It is difficult to understand how and where, by these decisions, the judicial pendulum swings. It was not so before, they contended.
“In some quarters the view is strongly held that filth and intrigues characterize the institution these days! Judges are said to be comfortable in companies they never would have kept in the past. It is being insinuated that some judicial officers even campaign for the politicians. It cannot be more damnifying!”
According to him, the judiciary he just retired from is way below the standard compared to when he joined the arm of government, calling for urgent judicial reforms.
He appreciated his brother justices for learning from them.
On his part, the CJN, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, stated that while the Supreme Court is now having the lowest justices in its history (10 instead of 21), Dattijo will be remembered for his intellectual prowess.
“With Justices Musa Dattijo leaving us today after the retirement of Hon. Justice Adamu Amina Augie a few weeks ago, we are now left with just 10 Justices on the Supreme Court Bench; being the lowest we have ever had in contemporary history of the Court.
“However, I can confidently assure all the litigant public that efforts are in top gear to get on board a sizable number of Justices to boost our rank and complement the tremendous effort we have been investing in the business of the Court.
“I am so emotionally overwhelmed, and at the same time, profusely exhilarated to personally witness this uncommon valedictory session.
“This is not because I have never witnessed or presided over valedictory sessions before; but for the fact that we are honouring a quintessential judicial icon with dazzling qualities and alluring stature who could, in one breath, be classified as a model of excellence that transcends the legal profession.
“My Lord Hon. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad in whose honour we assemble here today, is an epitome of jurisprudential finesse; an insuperable lion with an irrepressible voice in the temple of justice,” Ariwoola said.
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