Justice Kutigi said he is still in charge until midnight today when he turns 70
History was made as the out-going Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, yesterday, in Abuja, swore in Justice Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu as the 11th Chief Justice of Nigeria deepening the controversy over the action.
Even though Justice Kutigi described the event as “unusual”, he said “it is happening not because of anybody”. Justice Kutigi said he is still in charge until midnight today when he turns 70.
He devoted his brief speech at the ceremony to explaining his action, saying it is the first time in the history of Nigeria that the CJN swore-in the incoming CJN. He said, “It is the first time it is happening and it is nobody’s fault because the law is always there”. He said the swearing-in of CJN is vested in either the President of the country or the out-going CJN. Even though it had not happened before, the provision is contained in the Oath Act of 2004, Kutigi said.
“The law is clear. The constitution also made it clear that the person with the responsibility of swearing-in a new CJN beside the President is the CJN, which is what we are doing today. I will be completing my 70 years by midnight and I am bowing out tomorrow (today) as contained in the law.”
Kutigi said he is still in charge as the CJN until today, when he will bow out of service. “I am saying this because I don’t want mischief makers to go to the pages of newspapers to say that there are two CJNs in the country. I am still in charge until tomorrow [i.e. today].”
Justice Katsina-Alu, who hails from Ushongo Local Government Area of Benue State, is the 11th indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria. Justice Isa Ayo Salami is the fifth President of the Court of Appeal. He succeeds Justice Umar Farouk Abdullahi, who retired on November 30..
Kutigi said of Salami, “I have worked with him at the Appeal Court and I am telling you that he knows his onions. He is very hardworking and I am sure he will do his work very hard.”
Elombah.com says CJN: On the swearing in of Katsina-alu by Kutigi
Activist-lawyer Femi Falana described the exercise as “illegal”, but former Osun State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) said: “it is backed by law, though unsual”.
Justice Kutigi, who also swore in Court of Appeal President Justice Isa Ayo Salami, said his action was backed by the Oaths Act.
The Second Schedule of the Oaths Act, 2003 states the Nature of Oaths, Persons to take Oaths and Persons to tender Oaths. It lists the President and the Chief Justice of Nigeria as persons that could tender Oaths.
The President usually swears in the Chief Justice. But the indisposition of President Umaru Yar’Adua has prevented him from performing this constitutional duty.
Last week, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) said Justice Kutigi could swear in Justice Katsina-Alu in the President’s absence, citing the Oaths Act.
Justice Kutigi said: “For the first time in the history of this country, a sitting Chief Justice has sworn in the incoming; this is the first time. It is happening not because of the fault of anybody because the law has always been there that Mr. President or the Chief Justice can swear in the incoming.
“Now the occasion has arisen and we are to perform the function. This has generated a lot of issue even from those who should know. It is the Oaths Act; if you look at the Oaths Act, you will see that the President and the Chief Justice can swear in the incoming. The law is clear. If you look at the constitution, the constitution also makes it clear. There is nothing new; the law is there.
“I will be attaining the age of 70 Insha-Allah (if God pleases) by midnight. The law empowers me to bow out at the age of 70. So, make no mistake, I’m still in charge. I don’t want mischief makers to write that there are two Chief Justices. I’m still in charge”.
Justice Katsina-Alu becomes the 11th indigenous Chief Justice. Justice Salami is the fifth Appeal Court President.
Justice Kutigi has been on the Supreme Court Bench since 1992.
Urging the new courts’ heads to keep up the good job, Justice Kutigi said: “Salami, I know, knows his onions. He is hardworking. I say congratulations to the two of you.”
Justice Kutigi, who expressed surprise at the crowd that came to witness the event, thanked Nigerians for their support.
At the event were Governors Gabriel Suswam (Benue), Bukola Saraki (Kwara), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Sullivan Chime ( Enugu ) and Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa).
There were also Justices of the Supreme Court: Dahiru Musdapher, John Fabiyi, James Ogebe, Muntaka Coomasie, Mahmed Mohammad and Tanko Muhammad.
Describing the swearing in and mode of appointment of Justice Katsina-Alu as “illegal”, Falana said they were a recipe for a constitutional crisis.
Falana, President of the West African Bar Association (WABA), said: “Between 11am today (yesterday) and 12 midnight tomorrow (today) Nigeria has two Chief Justices, contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and the Supreme Court Act.”
He said though President Yar’Adua sent Justice Katsina-Alu’s name to the Senate for confirmation as required by Section 231 of the Constitution, after which the lawmakers screened and declared him “appointable”, the process was not completed.
“When did the Senate inform the President that his lordship was okay for the appointment? When was his lordship appointed after the Senate screening?” he queried.
“The swearing in convened by the National Judicial Council (NJC) is illegal as its power does not go beyond the nomination of judges for appointment.
“For sure, these serial illegalities will not go unchallenged,” Falana said.
Justice Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu was born on August 28, 1941 at Ushongo, Benue State.
He did his elementary education in four primary schools-RCM Primary School, 1951; Saint Ann’s Primary School, Adikpo, between 1951 and 52; RCM Primary School, Turungwa 1952 and St. Patrick’s Primary, 1953-55.
Between 1956 and 61, he was at Mount St. Michael’s Secondary School.
He left for the Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna in 1962. He attended the Mons Military Training College, Aldershot, England between 1962 and 63.
Justice Katsina-Alu attended the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria between 1963 and 64. He was at the Inns of Court School of Law, Gibson & Weldon College of Law, School of Studies, University of London between 1964 and 67.
He was called to the English Bar in October 1967. He attended the Nigerian Law School between 1967 and 68. The new Chief Justice bagged a Diploma in Business English in 1972.
Justice Katsina-Alu started his work career as a legal practitioner in Lagos in 1958 and later worked as a Legal Officer at the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Lagos between 1969 and 77.
He practised law in Gboko, Benue State between 1977 and 78 and became the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, between 1978 and 79. He served as a judge of the High Court, Makurdi between 1979 and 85; Justice, Court of Appeal, 1985-98 before his appointment to the Supreme Court in 1998.
To two former presidents of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) – Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) and O.C.J Okocha (SAN) – and Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN), it is the exclusive preserve of the President to swear in the Chief Justice.
Agbakoba said it would be unconstitutional for any other person to undertake the job.
“It is only after the President has sworn in the Chief Justice that the Chief Justive can swear in other judicial officers,” Agbakoba said, adding:
“As things are now, the new Chief Justice can only function administratively since he has no legal backing to carry out the functions of his office. It is either the President or acting President that can swear in the Chief Justice. Unfortunately, there is a gap now”.
Okocha said only the President or anybody acting on his behalf could swear in the Chief Justice, adding, however: “This is a small problem.”
Akintola said Justice Kutigi’s swearing in of Jusitice Katsina-Alu could foist two Chief Justices in the country.
He wondered in what capacity Justice Kutigi would be acting by administering the oath on Justice Katsina-Alu while still in office.
Former Supreme Court Justice Kayode Eso said there was no need for such oath. Three lawyers – Seni Adio, Ajibola Bashir and Rotimi Aladesanmi – said Justice Kutigi could swear in Justice Katsina-Alu.
Justice Eso said once the Chief Justice’s appointment has been approved by the National Assembly there is no need for any oath taking.
“Ordinarily and traditionally, there is no need for the taking of oath for the office of the Chief Justice”, he said, adding: “Since oath taking is illegal. Many people do not appreciate what the Constitution says on such matters”.
Adio said Justice Kutigi would be doing wrong if he swore in Justice Katsina-Alu before the expiration of his tenure.
Basher described as baseless views that the country would be left with two Chief Justices if Justice Kutigi administered the oath on his successor before he leaves office.
Aladesanmi said there was no big deal in Justice Katsina-Alu being sworn in by those legally recognised to administer oath, adding:
“In fact, the proper thing is the Justices of the Supreme Court or the one nearer in rank to the incoming Chief Justice should administer the oath.”
Elombah.com with Newspaper Reports