“Unexpected change is like a breath of fresh air – a little brisk at first, magical for body and soul.” —Susan Wiggs
By Como Omegoh
Last Words leaked on Wednesday that the Senate confirmed Justice Olukayode Ariwoola as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
Justice Arowoola was appointed to the interim post on June 27 this year, following the resignation of former Chief Justice Muhammad Tanko.
Judge Tanko had cited health reasons as reasons for his resignation.
But sources said he had come under pressure following a letter of protest touching on their welfare and various questions addressed to him by 14 of his other aggrieved learned judges.
Those who refused to accept the health grounds cited by ex-CJN Tanko as the main reason for his shock exit still insist that the 14-judge protest represented a silhouette of the rot that the Supreme Court of country has come under his watch.
However, part of the population was happy that Ariwoola’s confirmation did not follow the same path as that of his predecessor, Walter Onnoghen. Onnoghen’s confirmation took almost a lifetime to come after long months of politics. This signaled what to follow. So it came as no surprise to many that Onnoghen’s reign ended the way it did. The rest is now history.
When, therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari on July 25 delivered a letter to the Senate, seeking confirmation of Ariwoola as a CJN, trend watchers waited with heavy breaths to see how things would unfold.
Then on Wednesday, Ariwoola was confirmed by voice vote, after a selection exercise conducted by the full committee.
As it turns out, the news of Justice Ariwoola’s confirmation came across as one of those happy vibes that have emerged from upper legislative chambers lately.
With his confirmation, Ariwoola has therefore climbed the mountain as the third Supreme Court Justice to hold the post in the nearly eight years of Buhari’s administration. And what more? He made history by becoming the 22nd Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Shortly after being encased, Ariwoola apparently appealed to the Supreme Court’s understanding of the state of health, identified his many dire needs which ranged from lack of housing, insufficient funding to a workforce. insufficient work, among others.
Particularly stressing the shortage of manpower, Ariwoola said: “We are supposed to be 21 judges, but we are 13. We just found out on Monday when we started sitting that 12 appeals were listed for the judges treat.”
Then he filed an impassioned plea noting, “Many cases should not be allowed to go to the Supreme Court. Many cases should be allowed to stop at the Court of Appeal. It is only through a constitutional amendment that this can happen.
Observers believe Ariwoola’s inaugural statement on Wednesday showed he understood the Supreme Court’s real issues. They want his appeal to be well received, especially by the political class who have a penchant for dragging cases in broad daylight all the way to the Supreme Court – just to make a meal out of them. And for his fellow lawyers who have continued to see merit in a case where there is none, his appeal has remained as relevant as possible.
Since Ariwoola was appointed on an interim basis, optimism has continuously been expressed in some quarters that his arrival was simply timely. People continue to express regular confidence that while he might be encumbered to change the course of the wind, he would not at the same time be paralyzed to stop his flagrant drift from the Supreme Court.
Many will say that the Supreme Court they knew in the past has changed in more ways than one.
For the common man in the street, his impression of the highest court in the land now could be much worse than anyone could have possibly imagined.
For the past three years, for example, the clear vibrations of the supreme judicial institution have not been good for the ears.
In particular, many Nigerians – the learned and the ignorant still lost at sea – have yet to comprehend the judgment of the Supreme Court in the gubernatorial race in Imo State. The wound she inflicted has refused to heal in the same way that the controversy she caused is yet to be settled.
Many who believe that judicial rationales and explanations have been lavishly advanced thus far to explain this particular judgment, have gone on to describe them as “local Anastasia.”
All in all, many were persuaded by their assessment of things, rightly or wrongly, to come to a definitive conclusion that the Supreme Court had previously, crumbled to the plains, needing only redemption.
It is in this context that Ariwoola is spoken of as being in pole position to change the long narratives of the Supreme Court.
He is wanted to build a proactive program that will see positive reforms not only in the Supreme Court, but in the entire judicial system, in no time.
Ariwoola therefore bears a heavy burden to clear the Augean stables of distrust, as high as Mount Kilimanjaro.
At the moment, some bailiffs are not happy with cases dragging on in court, even though Ariwoola has complained bitterly about the lack of staff. Their expectation, like anyone else’s, is for things to change as quickly as Ariwoola can change them.
As one of the 14 officers who alerted former CJN Tanko to the plight of other justices, needless to say, he already knows where the Supreme Court’s shoes pinch. Therefore, it is paramount to address the gaping needs of judges which should enhance their motivation and morality.
That aside, some people familiar with the workings of the Supreme Court expect that in the future, “technical justice” should not and should not be seen as replacing “substantive justice”.
They stop before saying that it was the Achilles’ heel of the old regime.
Perhaps saying this has become imperative given that in the coming months the election season will be loaded with tense and interesting issues. These will certainly see the political class harassing the Supreme Court in large numbers in an apparent quest for justice as it seeks to reclaim its “stolen mandate”.
With that in mind, many want to see Ariwoola buckle up for the onerous tasks ahead of him. And here, erecting a beacon of discipline that, in the long run, will bring hope to the judiciary, especially to the Supreme Court, is something whose time has come. It will certainly change the course of things.
Indeed, Nigerians are eager to see the real change they want to see swirl around them. It certainly won’t be a bad idea if it starts in the Supreme Court where Ariwoola currently rules.
Born on August 22, 1954 in Iseyin, Oyo State, Ariwoola is currently 68 years old. He will retire statutorily at age 70, being the ceiling for the occupants of his office.
He studied law at the University of Ife, Ile Ife, obtaining a bachelor’s degree, and was later admitted to the Nigerian Bar in 1981.
He worked as a justice officer in the Oyo State Department of Justice after his national service until 1988 when he turned to private practice.
He then worked as a lawyer in the office of Chief Ladosu Ladapo (SAN) between October 1988 and July 1989. He left in 1989 to establish his own law office, Olukayode Ariwoola & Co, based in the city of Oyo.
He was appointed in November 1992 as a Judge of the Oyo State Judiciary and subsequently served in various judicial positions.
Upon his elevation to the Court of Appeal, he served in Kaduna, Enugu and Lagos Divisions before moving to the Supreme Court on November 22, 2011.