Nigeria dodges the bullet – again – as the next-in-line, a Southerner, finally becomes CJ after 30 years – Tola Adenle

March 1, 2017


Nigeria is a country that always seem to be on the verge of something, something inevitable, something that is finally going to rip the forced union apart.

It is important to start by stating a fact: Walter Onnoghen is not just a Southerner but the next in line to be appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria and a jurist who has made his mark as a selfless thinker whose pronouncements are based on the Law.

For many years, the post of Chief Justice (CJ) of the Supreme Court which used to have the most senior Justice step in once a CJ reaches the mandatory retirement age.

The first Nigerian to become CJ was a Southerner, Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, a Yoruba from the southwestern part of the country was elevated to the post to succeed Jutice Staford Foster Sutton (British) in 1972. He was the most senior, and his elevation, just as those of the next five CJs – all from the South, and all the next in line of succession – raised no raucus.

The five CJs: Olawale Elias, Darnley Arthur Alexander (a naturalized West-Indian Nigerian), Fatai-Willlias, Sowemimo an Ayo Irikefe headed the Supreme Court from 1975 to 1985.

It was the end of the road for appointment based on next-in-line succession to Nigeria’s apex court, a fact that did not generate much interest until it became apparent that the North – Muslim – seemed to have locked out the rest of the country from ever rising to that high office.

It is noteworthy that Nigeria’s first female CJ is a Muslim Northerner, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, who was born in 1944, the retired CJ was destined to head the apex court from the moment she became the first woman to become a lawyer in the whole of Northern Nigeria a mere 40 years ago.

Apart from being the first female lawyer from Northern Nigeria, first female judge of the High Court in Kano State judiciary, the first female justice of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria, the first female justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to the next step, the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

While not in any doubt about CJ Mukhtar’s capabilities – she and the newly-appointed Justice Onnoghen along with Justice Oguntade who ruled against the “victory” of late President Yar Adua while all the other Justices ruled that that the irregularities that occurred during the vote which saw many Nigerians killed in protests that erupted after Obasanjo’s massively-rigged election result was announced, were not enough to nullify Yar’adua’s election – a first female CJ would have emerged from the South IF the paths to the top for Southern judges have been smoother.

As recently as early last month, it was looking as if Justice Onnoghen would not be the new CJ having acted in that capacity since November, a situation that makes it constitutionally imperative that he is confirmed or lose the chance to be elevated. The Justice had already become the first acting Chief Justice in acting capacity for such a length of time and had till just the 10th February of 2017 to be appointed or be removed from office.

Today, Justice Walter Onnoghen from Nigeria’s Cross River State, finally breaks the spell of sectionalism and narrow-mindedness to ascend to the Supreme Court of Nigeria as Chief Justice, a post in which he would serve, God willing, till age 70, four years from now.

The shameful shenanigans from the presidency and the concerned legislative arm were neutralized by outcries from the South, and finally made today’s outcome possible.

It must be mentioned that the mad ambitions and personal agendas of Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan – both Southerners – cannot be far from why both men failed to adhere to the equity called for in Nigeria’s Constitution about Federal Character in appointments.

Nigeria has, again, dodged the bullet of a major crisis this time. Such injustice could, and probably will happen again but where that would lead is uncertain.

Here’s wishing the new CJ a momentous leadership of the apex court, especially at this time of great challenge in the country’s judiciary.

Southern Nigeria has a long tradition of men and women in the legal profession. By 1935, Sir Louis Mbanefo from Onitsha was called to the English Bar after which he went on to Cambridge for another degree which he obtained in 1937 before finally returning to Nigeria to practise Law. Much earlier in 1888, Christopher Sapara-Williams an Ijeṣa, arrived the country to start law practice in Lagos after being called to the English Bar in 1879.

Northern Nigeria’s first lawyer, Abdul Ganiyu FỌLỌRUNṢỌ Abdul-Rasaq, a Yoruba from Ilorin, then in Northern Nigeria, was raised and educated in Eastern Nigeria. He became a lawyer after university education in 1956.

Women have always been well represented in the law profession in the South, and perhaps most prominent among them (though she may not be the first) is Chief Folake Solanke, the first female Senior Advocate of Nigeria who got her first degree in Latin and Mathematics in the UK before studying law, a profession she entered on her return to Nigeria in 1962.

Why or how would it take 30 years … eight different leadership of the Supreme Court to find qualified/deserving jurists in the whole of the South?

The heavily-skewed appointments in just about ALL sectors of government, the security services, parastatals … in favor of the Muslim section of the North must change to reflect constitutional provisions.



WEDNESDAY, MARCH 1, 2017. 9:55 p.m. [GMT]



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4 Comments on “Nigeria dodges the bullet – again – as the next-in-line, a Southerner, finally becomes CJ after 30 years – Tola Adenle”

  1. folakemiodoaje Says:

    I liked that you touched on faith as Nigeria goes; it matters a lot. I know it is a sensitive matter, but for how long are we going to remain mute? Public leaders have used this to cajole citizens for too long for selfish gains.

    Thank you for the history. It is becoming clearer why the country is how it is today: we claim to be more educated and yet hardly involved in crucial decision making.



  2. Fatai Bakare Says:

    “The heavily-skewed appointments in just about ALL sectors of government, the security services, parastatals … in favor of the Muslim section of the North must change to reflect constitutional provisions”. Well said and I hope we will see these changes to reflect true federal character in all appointments and not lopsided ones.



    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Fatai,

      How are you?

      Thanks for this. The distinction needs be made that it is not just Muslims because those in the South are also neglected while just a small minority of the faith from the North, especially the president’s Northwest zone. Quite a few have also been reported in the media as being his family and close relatives.

      It is NOT what the Constitution specifies.

      Best wishes,



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