Nigeria’s chief justice, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, has resigned from his position, according to local media reports and his spokesperson. Muhammad has been the country’s top judge for three years but has served at the Supreme Court since 2005, cited health reasons as being behind his decision to retire.
In 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Muhammad as acting chief justice after controversially suspending his predecessor Justice Walter Onnoghen, just weeks ahead of an election in which the judiciary usually plays an important role.
Muhammad’s resignation comes barely weeks after a rare complaint by 14 of Nigeria’s 16 Supreme Court justices over a number of welfare and logistical issues. The leaked memo contained complaints of poor welfare and lack of transparency in the management of the court’s resources, and that was unprecedented and highly damaging.
Following the memo, stakeholders, including the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) waded in and urged Justice Muhammad to be accountable and transparent in the management of the judiciary’s funds.
In response, Muhammad said the apex court had “been living [up] to its constitutional responsibility” but “does not exist outside of its environment” and had been affected by the harsh economic realities facing the country, which currently spends nearly 90 percent of its revenue on servicing debt.
Just hours after his resignation, President Muhammadu Buhari has sworn in a new acting chief justice, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola. 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.
According to the president, the former chief justice was scheduled to retire from the Supreme Court on the last day of 2023 but “unfortunately, as no man is infallible, ill health has cut short Chief Justice Tanko’s leadership of the Nigerian judiciary at this time.”
“Much as one may wish that the Chief Justice of Nigeria Muhammad Tanko is able to fully serve his term in office, it presupposes that he is able to perform the functions of the office without let, hindrance or any form of disability,” Buhari added.
Speaking after his swearing-in, Ariwoola said he would “comply, abide, and preserve the constitution of Nigeria with the cooperation of my brother justices of the supreme court. We shall not fail Nigeria.”
Ariwoola will steer a Nigerian judiciary that has increasingly been seen as corrupt. He said the issues raised in the leaked memo, to which he was a signatory, are being resolved at the apex court.