The number of justices of the Supreme Court will further drop from its current 16 to 15 as one of them, Justice Muhammad Muntaka-Coomasie, will retire on February 13, 2016.
The constitution provides for 21 as the maximum number of justices that can be appointed to the Supreme Court.
With the retirement of Justice John Fabiyi on November 25, 2015, the number of the apex court justices had dropped to 16 from 17.
Barely one year before Justice Fabiyi’s retirement, the number of apex court justices had fallen to 16 with the retirement of the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mukhtar (retd.), on November 20, 2014.
Muntaka-Coomasie, who is number four on the order of seniority of the Supreme Court justices, will retire from the bench on February 13, his 70th birthday.
His birthday is not stated in his bio on the apex court’s website, but our correspondent learnt that he was born on February 13, 1946.
Prior to joining the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2008, Muntaka-Commasie was a justice of the Court of Appeal, and served in the Port Harcourt, Jos, Abuja, Ilorin, and Benin divisions.
The last appointment to the apex court bench was made in May 2015, when Justice Amiru Sanusi was appointed following the retirement of the immediate past CJN.
At the valedictory court session which held in honour of Justice Fabiyi on the day of his retirement at the Supreme Court complex, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN), called for full compliance with the constitutional provision which prescribes the maximum number of 21 justices of the Supreme Court in order to reduce the workload for the justices of the apex court.
On September 13, 2015 at this year’s triennial conference of Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association in New Zealand, the CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, said qualification to be appointed to the Supreme Court bench would no longer be limited to justices of the Court of Appeal.
He said, “My lords, the need for a change in the criteria for the appointment of judicial officers in Nigeria prompted me to direct the National Judicial Council to implement the new Revised NJC Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the Appointment of Judicial Officers of all Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria 2014.
“It was clear that the old guidelines and rules had become unworkable as it saw anachronisms such as the limitation that saw only justices of the Court of Appeal, as of right, making it to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“Under the new, more rigorous and transparent rules, any qualified legal practitioner with the requisite intellect has the opportunity of making it to any court in the land and even to the posts of heads of federal and state superior courts, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“As Chairman of the National Judicial Council, I have had to take up the responsibility of ensuring that the overall appointments procedure maintains the institutional integrity of the judicial appointment process while ensuring that only the most competent persons are elevated.”