21st November, 2023
By Adedayo Oshodi,
The article by one Lasisi Olagunju on the recent nomination of 21 justices for appointment to the Supreme Court should disturb any objective and well-meaning Nigerian. It is calculated at escalating our fault lines. It is targeted at dividing the Nigerian judiciary along State lines.
It is calculated to incite Nigerians against Lagosians. It’s a hate piece. We appear not to be fed up with the damage wrecked to our nation by our perennial ethnic and religious divisions. As a corollary, we appear committed to a race to the bottom, when appointments to our apex court are reduced to the clout of the respective states of origin of the justices of the Court of Appeal without any consideration for merit and/or seniority at the bench.
Truth be told, this has nothing to do with the pedigree of the two erudite and respected Honourable justices of the Court of Appeal: Hon. Justice Habeeb Adewale Abiru and Justice Olubunmi Oyewole. Both of them are worthy and deserving of a seat at the Supreme Court. Just ask about them. Thus, it is bad enough that the judicial establishment appears to be heading towards one of them instead of both. We need and deserve both of them, in my opinion. On merit. It is even worse and unfair to both of them to reduce their hard work & careers to their states of origin with the despicable consequence of tainting the elevation of any of them by ascribing the same to their origin as against their hard work and brilliance. It is a disservice to the erudite justices.
First, the author politically weaponized the appointments of nominees to the Supreme Court by referring to them as the “electors of our future presidents, governors and lawmakers.” Haba!! We all know how and where presidents, governors and lawmakers are elected. It is mischievous to interchange adjudication of electoral disputes to election. It is fraudulent.
Secondly, the writer disregarded seniority at the bar and bench, which is a fundamental consideration in the legal profession. Neither did he pay any attention or give consideration to when the two justices were appointed to the bench or the quality of their judgements.
A simple Google search would have assisted Mr. Lasisi Olagunju in writing a balanced article that states the criteria set out by law as well as the facts that supports or goes against any of the justice’s nomination. The fact remains that Justice Abiru was Justice Oyewole’s senior at the then-University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). He was also his senior at the bar. Most importantly, Hon. Justice Abiru was appointed to the Court of Appeal in 2012, whilst Hon. Justice Oyewole was appointed in 2014. Would it be fair for Justice Abiru to be skipped over because he is from Lagos State? Or for his junior in the heir-achy to become his senior?
Yes, the extant law requires fulfilment of the federal character principle so appointments into national institutions are not lopsided towards a particular region. The balancing is based on the 6 geo-political zones(NW, NE, NC, SW, SE, SS) not based on states as suggested by Mr. Lasisi Olagunju.
The facts in the article are wrong. Based on my findings, there used to be pairs and it was Lagos and Ogun, Oyo and Osun and Ekiti and Ondo. But the pairings were jettisoned under Hon. Justice Aloma Mukhtar’s tenure as Chief Justice of Nigeria and it became zones. Things changed further when the Supreme Court was tasked to appoint its full complement of 21 Justices. South West got a fourth slot instead of 3, which was given to Ogunwumiju, JSC.
Assuming, without conceding, that we are even going by pairings referred to by Mr Olagunju, the Oyo and Osun slot is occupied by the current Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Kayode Ariwoola.
The fact is that the slot available was vacated by a Lagosian in the person of Hon. Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, who retired on 22nd March 2021 after he was appointed on 16th September 2010. He replaced another Lagosian, Justice George Adesola Oguntade, who retired on 10th May 2010. Now, Lagos is the commercial nerve Centre of Nigeria, where 90% of Nigeria’s VAT is generated. It’s a mini Nigeria that accommodates everyone. Arguably, Hon. Justice Oyewole is a Lagosian, though not an indigene, as he was not only a resident of Lagos but was appointed as a judge of the Lagos High Court. Essentially, you have two Lagos jurists to a large extent. So, why this division where there is none?
Lasisi Olagunji should do right by these two fine jurists by not diminishing their ascendance to the Supreme Court by crediting the same power play against merit and the time-honoured tradition of the Nigerian judiciary of seniority.
Adedayo Oshodi is Principal Partner, Robert Clarke, SAN & Ade Oshodi Partners