Nigeria’s chief justice resigns on health grounds

The top judge cited health concerns for his resignation, which comes weeks after a rare complaint by his fellow justices.

A lawyer walks through the compound at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi district in Lagos, Nigeria
A lawyer walks through the compound at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi district in Lagos, Nigeria, May 8, 2018. [File: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters]

Nigeria’s chief justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad has resigned from his position, according to local media reports and his spokesperson.

Muhammad, 68, 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.

Ahuraka Isah confirmed the news to Al Jazeera on Monday afternoon, after Nigerian TV channel Arise News had reported the news earlier in the day.

But he did not respond to questions for more details about the resignation or his successor.

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.

The suspension of Nigeria’s most senior judge broke international human rights standards on the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers, Diego García-Sayán, a former Peruvian justice minister and United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges, said at the time.

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, including a lack of research assistants and inadequate accommodation, leaked.

The judges’ letter of complaint to Muhammad is the first in the court’s nearly 60-year history. It included concerns regarding legal research assistants provided to justices, erratic electricity supply to the court, allegedly decrepit work vehicles given to justices, several of which were claimed to be “substandard”, and a lack of internet in their residences and chambers.

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.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies