Controversy Over New CJN’s Age

<strong>Controversy Over New CJN’s Age</strong>
  • Started school one year after birth
  • Despite resignation, Senate orders probe of ex-CJN Tanko
  • Seeks measures to avert judicial crisis

Teddy Nwanunobi And Abdulateef Bamgbose

Hardly has the newly sworn acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, assumed office when he was involved in a scandal surrounding his true age.

Ariwoola was sworn in by President Muhammadu Buhari as the acting CJN on Monday, following the resignation of Justice Ibrahim Tanko.

AljazirahNigeria reports that Ariwoola is expected to serve in acting capacity until his confirmation by the duo of the National Judicial Council, NJC, and the National Assembly.

It would be recalled that at the swearing in ceremony in the Aso Rock Villa, the acting CJN swore to be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Government, as well as defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

But less than 24 hours after he was sworn into office, fresh questions have been raised over the credentials of Ariwoola, particularly on the date that he began school.

According to the information on the website of the Supreme Court, Ariwoola sighted by AljazirahNigeria and other media, was born at Iseyin, Oyo State, on “August 22, 1958”.

However, this elicited some controversies by many concerned Nigerians who quickly began to react on social media; tweeter, instagram and facebook; some were calling the attention of the Supreme Court and the IT management while others lambasted the Supreme court ICT section by being deliberately callous to malign and bring to ridicule the person of Justice Ariwoola who has an impeccable dossier. Consequently, the date of birth has now been edited and deleted, replaced by “he was born over 60 years ago”, what a poor way of doing damage control.

The site said that he began his primary education less than a year later in 1959 at the Local Authority Demonstration School, Oluwole, in his hometown.

He would spend eight years in school before graduating in 1967.

He then moved to Muslim Modern School in the same town from 1968 to 1969 before graduating to Ansar-Ud-Deen High School, Saki area of Oyo, for secondary education.

He earned his law degree from the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University in 1980, and a year later he was called to the Nigerian Bar and got enrolled as a solicitor and advocate of the Supreme Court.

The spokesperson of the Supreme Court, Festus Akande, however, said that the acting CJN was born in 1954.

According to a report by TheCable, Akande said that there is no “disparity” in the age of Ariwoola, while he also shared his curriculum vitae.

“There is no disparity and I don’t know where those people got that information from”, he said.

Akande, who responded to whether the site was edited, said: “Not at all. It has never been so. How can they do that?”

According to Section 291 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended), a Supreme Court justice is expected to retire at the age of 70.

If Ariwoola was born in 1958, he would have served as the CJN – if confirmed by the Senate – from 2022 to 2028.

But, as he was born in 1954 means that the justice will only serve as the head of the apex court from 2022 to 2024.

A senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Afe Babalola, had, in April 2021, advocated for the retirement age of Supreme Court justices to be increased from 70 to 100.

But another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Thomas Okpoko, however, rejected the call.

Before Ariwoola was sworn in to his new role, it was gathered that some northern justices were against his appointment on the grounds that the 67-year-old is allegedly battling health issues.

They alleged that the illness might affect Ariwoola’s performance as the leader of the Supreme Court, just as it affected the immediate past CJN Tanko Muhammad.

The next in hierarchy to him, Musa Dattijo Muhammad, is also said to be very ill, and had just returned from a surgery.

The nature of the ailments is not publicly known.

Meanwhile, the Senate has mandated the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to go ahead with the probe of the crisis in the Judiciary by looking into the complaints raised in the petition by the Justices of the Supreme Court.

It also tasked the Committee to interface with the three arms of government, as well as at the Bar and on the Bench to collate aggregate views and positions on the short term, medium term and long term measures needed to decisively address the crisis facing the Judiciary.

According to the Senate, such measures must include the immediate fiscal intervention as well as long term and sustainable budgetary allocations, required for the optimal performance of the Judiciary, in line with global best practices.

These were resolutions reached by the Senate, sequel to a motion brought to the floor by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele , APC, Ekiti Central.

Coming under Order 41 and 51 of the Senate Standing Orders 2022, as amended, Bamidele recalled that the Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan, last week, drew the attention of the chamber to media reports on the state of affairs in the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

He noted that poor welfare of judicial officers would adversely affect the output of the Judiciary in service delivery.

“The Judiciary, which is the epicentre of the temple of justice, should be preserved by the Senate through appropriate legislative measures in order to safeguard this highly revered institution and prevent it from being ridiculed”, Bamidele said.

He stated that the Committee, in taking steps to look into the matter as directed by President of the Senate Ahmad Lawan, has started the process of making arrangements to interface with relevant stakeholders both at the Bar and on the Bench.

He said that the resignation of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed, on Sunday, June 27, 2022, “Will not prevent the Committee from going ahead with its assignment in the quest to find a probable lasting solution to the matter”.

 Opeyemi noted that, “Even though Hon. Justice Tanko Muhammed has stepped down as the CJN, most of the issues raised by the Justices of the Supreme Court and other stakeholders within the Judiciary still remain and need to be addressed urgently to prevent an eventual shut down of the Judiciary”.

As the first of its kind to see a serving Justice of the Supreme Court to resign for any reason, President Buhari has accepted his resignation and honoured him with the Grand Commander of the Order of Niger, GCON, Buhari’s action has in a way exonerated him of any wrong doing despite the written protest of the 14 Justices who accused him of misappropriation of funds meant for the Justices and other judicial staff members and the Ag CJN’s date of birth and actual date of primary school enrolment becomes controversial just few hours after swearing in leaves much to be desired.

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