The greatest of all courts in Nigeria is the one and only Supreme Court of Nigeria, headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria. The greatest of all Laws, Rules, Directives, Orders and Regulations in Nigeria is the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. The superior courts of record in Nigeria, including the Supreme Court were created by the Constitution as well as the offices of the heads of the courts. For decades, the Supreme Court has been playing the big brother role in determination of cases as well as in administration of courts across Nigeria. However, the recent closure of courts in Nigeria due to coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, (without online/tele alternatives) has been condemned by many lawyers and the general public. Although, the courts are open to attend to urgent matters, it is believed that justice is being delayed and greatly denied without alternative remedies/options. Hence, lawyers have questioned the powers of the Chief Justice of Nigeria to close all courts in Nigeria.

In considering the powers of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Supreme Court over all courts in Nigeria, the only important law is the Constitution of Nigeria (irrespective of all establishment Acts, Laws, Rules of courts as well as the powers of the National Judicial Council). More so, any power created by the constitution cannot be expanded by any other law made by the National Assembly or state assembly. “The supremacy of the National Assembly is subject to the overall supremacy of the Constitution.” And, any law, order, regulation or rule that attempts to do so, is self destructive and dead on arrival. Hence, there is really no need to consider laws and literatures outside the constitution of Nigeria, on this title.

First of all, the judiciary is the third arm of government and judicial powers are vested on courts in Nigeria. However, the judicial powers are separately vested on different courts across Nigeria. The Constitution creates all superior courts of record and their justices as well as empowers the state legislatures to create inferior courts and their judges (Magistrates, District Courts, Area courts and all the several states’ tribunals and mobile courts). As provided in the constitution, the superior courts of record in Nigeria, are; the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Courts, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the High Courts of States, The Customary Court of Appeal of States and that of the FCT, The Sharia Court of Appeal of States and that of the FCT. These are all constitutionally created and approved superior courts and the constitution of Nigeria also creates offices for the heads of the courts, too.

Heads of courts are the most senior Judges/Justices of each court; a first among other Judges in the court. Administratively, the heads of the courts manage and administer their courts, seeing to the day to day running of their courts, including; making of Rules of the court, assignment of cases to judges, sitting time, vacation and closure of courts. The heads of courts, are the Chief Executive Officers and Managing Directors of their courts. The are often assisted by the Chief Registrars of the courts. The heads of the superior courts of record in Nigeria, are;

1. The Supreme Court = The Chief Justice of Nigeria

2. The Court of Appeal = The President of Court of Appeal

3. The Federal High Court = the Chief Judge of Federal High Court

4. The National Industrial Court = the President of National Industrial Court.

5. The High Courts of States and that of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) = the Respective Chief Judges of the States and the Chief Judge of FCT.

6. The Customary Courts of Appeal of States and that of the FCT = the Presidents of the Customary Courts of Appeal of states and that of the FCT, respectively

7. The Sharia Courts of Appeal of States and that of the FCT = the Grand Kadis of the Sharia Courts of Appeal of states and that of the FCT, respectively.

By the provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria, in determination of cases, every court in Nigeria MUST bow to the powers of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The judgments of the Supreme Court are final and unquestionable by any human being, government, court, head of court or international forum. The judgments of the Supreme Court are like laws to other courts and must be obeyed; they are judicial precedent (examples/pathways) that must be adhered to by other courts (the principles of “Stare Decisis”). It is so because there is need for guidance and uniformity in the interpretation of laws by the judiciary and also cases must have an end. That is the reason, cases can go on appeal from the State High Courts, Federal High Courts or the National Industrial Court to the Court of Appeal and finally to the Supreme Court and must end there, even if the heaven falls. Furthermore, still on determination of law suits, in cases of fundamental human rights, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, is constitutionally empowered to make necessary rules for High Courts in Nigeria.

There is a wide world of difference between determination of cases by courts and the management/administration of courts that determine cases. Apart from issues of determination of cases and judgements, there is no provision of the constitution of Nigeria, that demands courts in Nigeria to take administrative directives and instructions from the Supreme Court or the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Note this, the judicial powers of the Judiciary in Nigeria, is decentralised and not solely vested on the Supreme Court or the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Rather, the judicial powers are vested on the different courts in Nigeria including the courts created or to be created by any House of Assembly or the National Assembly. While the judiciary is independent of the other arms of government (Executive and Legislature), all the courts in Nigeria are independent of the other in administration and management.

None of the courts have powers to administratively, order the appointment, suspension, retirement or closure of any courts or its judges. Unless where there is a law suit and proper determination of issues, no court can administratively order and boss another court. All Judges (Judicial Officers) of Superior Courts of record are public office holders that can voluntarily retire at age sixty (60) or be compulsorily retired at age sixty-five (65), all with pension for life at the rate of their last monthly salary. They are not appointees, servants or administrative subordinates and they do not hold their offices at the mercy of the Supreme Court or the Chief Justice Nigeria. Heads of courts of the Federal Government, can be removed from office for misconduct, contravention of code of conduct, infirmity of mind/body by the President of Nigeria acting on an address supported by 2/3 majority of the Senate. While for Heads of Courts owned by a State government, they can be removed for misconduct, contravention of code of conduct or infirmity of mind/body by the Governor of the state acting on an address supported by 2/3 majority of the State’s House of Assembly. Hence, all courts and heads of courts in Nigeria have equal administrative powers but in determination of law suits/cases, their powers vary and the Supreme Court sits on top.

With due respect, the Supreme Court or the Chief Justice of Nigeria, cannot create or arrogate powers to themselves, they have no legislative rights/powers. More importantly, no court is above or beyond the constitution and any action or inaction contrary to the constitution is invalid, illegal and dead on arrival. Only the National Assembly of Nigeria, through a rigorous legislative process can amend the constitution of Nigeria to allow closure of all courts. Until then, heads of courts, can continue to exercise their administrative powers to open and close their courts where necessary, having in mind the prevailing challenges facing Nigeria as well as the avalanche of modern online and tele-tech devices for remote adjudication of cases.

Justice should not be delayed and courts cannot continue to be lockdown while human rights are indiscriminately violated. Lawyers and judges must be innovative and adaptive in their selfless services to humanity. The services of lawyers and courts are time sensitive and are the latest basic need of 21st century man, after Food, Shelter and Clothing. Even with the pandemic, the world has moved on with the new normal way of living with preventive measures against coronavirus (COVID-19). Now, we don’t need physical court rooms rather online court rooms and better justice. First of all, judges should be encouraged to deliver their judgements through safe online platforms that are readily available to litigants, court staff and the public, after all, judgments are public documents. Secondly, a judge is a court, the court room does not make a court; so trials should be held using online platforms that are readily available to litigants, court staff and the public. Using, online platforms and modern telecommunication devices will help judiciary save time, public fund and health of judges as well as increase access to Justice without insecurity and possible biological compromises.

The writer is not unaware of COVID-19 pandemic and governments interventions to end it. The security and welfare of the good people of Nigeria are the primary purpose of government, however government must be lawful and law abiding in achieving such purpose. It is advised that constitutional procedures and statutory processes be engaged at all times to avoid causing more problems in attempting to solve one. We must conquer COVID-19 without violating fundamental human rights of Nigerians, even where such rights are lawfully restrained. Stay at Home and Stay Healthy.

My authorities are:

1. Sections 1, 6, 46(3), 230, 231, 236, 237, 238, 249, 250, 254, 256, 260, 261, 265, 266, 270, 271, 275, 276, 280, 281, 287, 291 and 292 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

2. The Supreme Court’s decision (on the finality of the Supreme Court) in the case of AYOADE v. STATE (2020) LPELR-49379(SC).

3. The Supreme Court’s decision (on the finality of the Supreme Court) in the case of EFCC v. REINL (2020) LPELR-49387(SC)

4. The Supreme Court’s decision (on the supremacy of the constitution) in the case of INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION v. ALHAJI ABDULKADIR BALARABE MUSA (2003) LPELR-24927(SC)

5. Chief Justice of Nigeria’s Circular (Circular No: NJC/CIR/HOC/11/631) dated 23 March 2020.

6. Chief Justice of Nigeria’s Circular (Circular No: NJC/CIR/HOC/11/656) dated the 6th day of April 2020.










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