February 20, 2020

Supreme Court: Justices on their way out


By Henry Ojelu,

At a public function last year, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammad Tanko raised concerns over the heavy workload on justices of the Supreme Court.

The CJN pointed out that it would be difficult for the justices to cope with the volume of cases before them if nothing is done urgently. Although not expressly stated by the CJN, one of the core factors responsible for the issue raised by him is the number of justices at the apex court.

At the moment, there are 13 Justice of the Supreme Court, whereas section 230 (2) (b) of the 1999 constitution provides that; “ The Supreme Court of Nigeria shall consist of such number of Justices not exceeding 21 as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.” Successive governments have also overlooked the need to have the maximum 21 justices as stipulated by the constitution.

Law and Human Right investigation revealed that seven out of the current 13 Supreme Court Justices would most likely retire on or before 2023 having reached the 70 years mandatory retirement age. The CJN who was sworn in 2019 would retire in 2023 going by his age. He was born on December 31, 1953.

Other six Justices of the Supreme Court, who are also expected to retire on or before the election year include Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, Justice Mary Odili, Justice Musa Muhammad, Justice Amina Augie and Justice Paul Galumje.

The most senior Justice among the remaining six is Justice Olukayode Ariwoola who was born on August 22, 1958 and appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2011.

In this edition, we profile the jurists who have served the country well and would soon bow out.

Justice Tanko Muhammad, retires 2023

Justice Tanko Muhammad was born on December 31, 1953. He hails from Doguwa, Giade Local Government of Bauchi State. After serving as magistrate, he was appointed as Kadi (Judge) of the Sharia Court of Appeal, Bauchi State in 1991.

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He was elevated to the position of Justice of the Court of Appeal from 1993 to 2006. He was appointed as Justice of the Supreme Court in 2006 and was sworn in on January 7, 2007. He became Chief Justice of Nigeria is 2019.

Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, retires 2021

Justice Rhodes-Vivour was born on March 22, 1951. He rose through the ranks. On February 18, 1994, he was appointed to the Bench as a High Court Judge. He was elevated to the Bench of the Court of Appeal on April 25, 2005.

In 2008 on secondment by the Federal Government, he was posted to Sierra Leone Judiciary as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone. At his return to Nigeria, he was appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court on September 16, 2010.

Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, retirement 2021

Justice Ngwuta was born in 1951 in Amofia-Ukawu, Onicha Local government Ebonyi State. He had his basic education in the Eastern part of Nigeria and got his LLB in University of Ife (Now Obafemi Awolowo University). lle-ife and BL at the Nigerian law school in 1978.

He started his private legal practice at Abakaliki in July 1978-October 1995, from where he was appointed a judge of the High Court Abia state in October 1995. He was promoted to the Court of Appeal on May 22, 2003, and was sworn-in as Justice of the Supreme Court in May 2011.

Justice Mary Odili, retires 2022

Justice Odili was born on May 13, 1952 at AmudiObizi, Ezinihitte – Mbaise L.G.A. of Imo State. Her previous professional appointments/positions includes: Pupil State Counsel, Ministry of Justice, Abeokuta, Ogun State (1977 – 1978); Magistrate Grade III, Benin, Bendel State (1978 -1979); Chairman, Juvenile Court, Benin, Bendel State (1978 – 1979), Chief Magistrate Grade I (1981 – 1992); Judge, High Court of Rivers State (1992 – 2004); Justice, Court of Appeal, Abuja Judicial Division (2004 – 2010) and Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, Kaduna Division (2010 – 2011). Justice Odili was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court on June 23, 2011.

Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, retires 2028

Justice Ariwoola was born on August 22, 1958. He was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court in 2011. He was a Justice of the Court of Appeal between 2005 and 2011 after having been elevated from the State High Court of Oyo State.

Justice Ariwoola was first appointed a Judge of Superior Court of record in Oyo State in 1992 from private legal practice. Before his elevation to the Supreme Court, he served as Justice of Court of Appeal in Kaduna, Enugu and Lagos Divisions.

Justice Muhammad, retires 2023

Justice Muhammad was born on October 27, 1953 in Chanchaga local government area in Minna. After his primary and secondary education, he proceeded to Abdullahi Bayero college (now Bayero University) Kano 1972-1973 for pre-degree certificate.

He got his LLB (Hons) at Ahmadu Bello University (Faculty of Law) Zaria 1973-1976, and his BL at the Nigerian Law School 1977. He proceeded to Warwick University Coventry UK for his LLM 1982-1983, and also institute of Advance Certificate in Practice procedure. After years as a judge, he was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court on July 2012.

Justice Kekere-Ekun, retires 2028

Justice Kekerr-Ekun was born on May 7, 1958. She was appointed a Senior Magistrate Grade II, Lagos State Judiciary in December 1989. She was appointed as a Judge of the High Court of Lagos State in July 1996.

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She served as Chairman Robbery and Firearms Tribunal, Zone II, Ikeja, Lagos from November 1996 to May 1999. She was elevated as a Justice of the Court of Appeal on September 22, 2004. She was appointed a Justice of Supreme Court on June 8, 2013.

Justice Okoro, retirement 2029

John Okoro (born July 7, 1959) is a Nigerian jurist and Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. His appointment as justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria was confirmed by the Senate on October 2013.

He was sworn in on November 15, 2014 by Justice Aloma Mukhtar, the former Chief Justice of Nigeria. He was arrested by the department of state security services (DSS), on October 8, 2016 on allegations of bribery and corruption and later reinstated after he was cleared of the allegations.

Justice Nweze, retires 2028

Justice Nweze, a native of Obollo, Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State, was born on September 25, 1958. Having practised at the private Bar from 1985 – 1995, he was elevated to the High Court Bench of Enugu State in November, 1995.

He was appointed a Justice of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria, February 15, 2008; and served thereat until October, 2014, when he was, finally, elevated to Nigeria’s apex court as a Justice of the Supreme Court on October 29, 2014.

Justice Amina Augie, retires 2023

Justice Augie was born in Anne Eva Graham on September 3, 1953. She is from Kebbi State, in the North-Western part of Nigeria. She served as a Senior State Counsel in the Office of the Chief Counsel to the then President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, after which, she was appointed Lecturer by the Nigerian Law School, Lagos.

In 1988, she was appointed Chief Magistrate in the Sokoto State Judiciary. Justice Augie was elevated to the Court of Appeal Bench in 2002. She was later elevated as Justice of the Supreme Court on the November 7, 2016.

Justice Ejembi Eko retires 2024

Justice Ejembi Eko was born on the May 23,1952. He hails from Otukpo Local Government Area of Benue State. He was appointed Judge of the Benue State High Court on February 9, 1989 and rose to become Acting Chief Judge of Benue State from November 2005 – February 2006. He was appointed Justice of the Court of Appeal in December 2007.

He joined the Court of Appeal Bench in February 2008 and served in various Divisions of the Court of Appeal before he was elevated to the Supreme Court Bench on November 7, 2016.

Justice Paul Galumje, retires 2020

Justice Galumje was born on the April 21, 1950 at Didan in Kurmi Local Government Area of Taraba State. Justice Galumje was appointed Acting Magistrate Grade II, in the then Gongola Judiciary.

He became a Substantive Magistrate Grade II on July 8, 1980 and rose to become Chief Magistrate Grade I in 1987. On April 11, 1990, Galumje was appointed High Court Judge. He was elevated as a Justice of Court of Appeal on November 22, 2005 and to the Supreme Court on December 5 2016.

Justice Uwani Musa Abba Aji, retires 2026

Justice Aji was born on November 7, 1956 in Gashua, Yobe State. After private practice and working in the state ministry of Justice, she was appointed Higher Court Judge of Yobe State in December 1991 making her the first Lady Judge at Yobe State Judiciary, a position she held until July 2004 when she was elevated to the Court of Appeal.

Before her elevation to the Supreme Court on January 8, 2019, she was the Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal Kaduna Division, a position she held for four years.

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