Kudirat Kekere-Ekun: the new Chief Justice of Nigeria

Nigeria

Published on Wednesday 22 May 2024 Back to articles

Nigeria’s next Chief Justice, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun

The current Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola, will retire as a Supreme Court judge by August and may start his pre-retirement leave this week, paving the way for the appointment of the second female to ever hold the post of CJN. Kudirat Kekere-Ekun (b.1958), who has been a Supreme Court judge since 2013, is likely to succeed Ariwoola when he takes a bow on his controversial tenure. 

The constitution mandates that the president sends the name of the most senior Supreme Court judge to the Senate for confirmation as CJN when the incumbent retires. Kekere-Ekun is currently the most one so there is an expectation that President Bola Tinubu will nominate her for the post. 

Kereke-Ekun has slowly climbed the country’s judicial ladder after being called the Nigerian Bar in 1981. She started a Senior Magistrate Grade II, in the Lagos State Judiciary in December 1989 and gradually rose to become a High Court judge in July 1996.She was then promoted to the Court of Appeal on 22 September 2004, and served as a member of its ICT Committee in 2011-2013, before being made a Supreme Court judge where she has been since. 

Even though it is almost certain that Kekere-Ekun will take over from Ariwoola in an acting capacity until the possible confirmation of her appointment by the National Assembly, there is likely going to be an argument about one person from the Southwest replacing another. However, there has been a precedent with a CJN from the North taking over from another. 

Her biggest challenge will be to try to restore confidence in the judiciary. The perception of a fair and impartial judiciary has been eroded in recent years because of a series of questionable judgments. Interestingly, Kekere-Ekun was the lead judge in the delivery of the most controversial judgment ever in Nigeria’s post-independence history. She read the judgment in the January 2020 case that ruled that Hope Uzodinma (b.1958) was lawful Imo State governor, based on the allegation that results from 388 polling units where Uzodinma led were not included in the original results. 

The controversary was that Uzodinma actually came in a distant fourth in the gubernatorial election. The results he presented in court were not from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and according to Justice Centus Nweze — who gave a dissenting judgment when the Supreme Court was asked to reverse the decision — Uzodinma had admitted that he hijacked the results from the INEC and rewrote it himself. 

His version only included votes for Uzodinma and not for any of the other candidates and, when they add wed these new votes, the total was more than the number of accredited voters in the state. Despite all these anomalies, Kekere-Ekun and six other judges ruled that Uzodinma was the validly elected governor after adding the results from the 388 polling units which were not obtained directly from the INEC. The Supreme Court therefore overturned the decision of both the Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal to affirm Uzodinma as the governor.

With such a controversial judgment on her profile ahead of her promotion to CJN, she is not the best person to restore confidence in the judiciary. As CJN, she will oversee the selection of judges who will hear any legal challenge to the outcome of the 2027 presidential elections. The opposition political parties will have little confidence that she will be fair and her appointment will do little to restore confidence in the judiciary, and especially concerning political matters. 

This excerpt is taken from Nigeria Focus, our monthly intelligence report on Nigeria. Click here to receive a free sample copy.

The May 2024 issue of Nigeria Focus also includes the following:

Spotlight

  • The intrigues behind Tinubu’s potential cabinet reshuffle

Profile

  • Kudirat Kekere-Ekun – next Chief Justice od Nigeria

Politics

  • Peter Obi’s romance with the PDP and what it will lead to
  • Is Tinubu instigating Rivers State’s crisis?

Economy

  • Inflation weakens government’s position on minimum wage
  • Naira remains volatile

Energy Sector

  • New oil licensing round to test the PIA
  • NUPRC releases guidelines on approving pending deals
  • Tinubu powers on CNG initiative
  • New gas infrastructure to boost domestic capacity by 25%

Security

  • Abuja in the spotlight over insecurity again
  • Numbers

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