Justice Muhammad Dattijo, who recently marked his retirement at the Supreme Court upon reaching the statutory retirement age of 70, has voiced his concerns regarding the non-representation of the South-East and North-Central regions in the Supreme Court Bench. He believes that this disparity poses a significant threat to equitable justice delivery in Nigeria.
During his valedictory court session held in his honour at the Supreme Court, Justice Dattijo emphasised the importance of regional representation in the highest court of the land. He expressed his apprehensions by stating, “It is all about the absolute powers vested in the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the responsible exercise of the same. That this avoidable depletion has affected and will further affect the court and litigants are stating the obvious.”
Justice Dattijo also raised questions about the delay in filling the vacant positions within the apex court, saying, “Why have these steps not been timeously taken? We are in an election season where the Election Tribunals and appellate courts are inundated with all manner of petitions and appeals. The Supreme Court is the final court in the Presidential, Governorship, and National Assembly election appeals. Yet, there are only 10 justices left to determine these matters.”
He underlined the potential risks this situation poses to Nigeria’s democracy, especially during election seasons. “It portends great danger for the country’s democracy to have the South-East and North-Central regions not represented on the bench of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”
Having spent 43 years in the judiciary, Justice Dattijo expressed his concern about the lack of representation from two entire regions on the Supreme Court bench. He emphasised the importance of geographical diversity in judicial decisions, particularly in cases involving presidential appeals.
Justice Dattijo pointed out the lengthy period without appointments to fill vacant positions in the Supreme Court, noting that the South-East and North Central regions have been particularly affected. “It has been two years and seven months since Sylvanus Ngwuta, another Justice from the South East, died, and no appointment was made. Justice Ejembi Eko, who represented the North Central zone and retired on May 23, 2022, has not been replaced either. Justice Sidi Bage JSC, now His Royal Highness, the Emir of Lafia, from the North Central, had earlier voluntarily retired. He equally is yet to be replaced.”
With Justice Dattijo’s retirement, the Supreme Court now has only four geo-political regions represented: the South-West, South-South, North-West, and North-East. The South-South and North-East have two serving Justices each, while the North-West and South-West are fully represented with three Jurists each.