The death of Sylvester Ngwuta, a justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, on Sunday means seniority at the nation’s constitutional court is about to change, an analysis by TheCable has shown.
Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, who is currently the fourth most senior of the 20 justices, will find herself as the second-in-command to the chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, in just a fortnight.
Why? The current No 2 is Bode Rhodes-Vivour — but he will bow out of the bench on March 22, 2021 when he clocks 70.
That is just two weeks away.
Ngwuta was the No 3 and was due to retire on March 30, 2021 upon attaining the mandatory retirement age of 70 but has now died, leaving the position for Peter-Odili.
Rhodes-Vivour’s imminent exit means Peter-Odili — spouse of former governor of Rivers state and former presidential hopeful, Peter Odili — will move from No 4 to No 2 faster than expected.
BUT IS SHE NEXT IN LINE FOR CJN?
By tradition, the second most senior justice of the supreme court is appointed chief justice after the retirement of the incumbent.
Will Peter-Odili become the second female CJN — after Aloma Mariam Mukhtar — when Muhammad retires?
Not so fast.
Odili, who was appointed a justice of the supreme court on June 23, 2011, was born on May 12, 1952.
This means she will be due for retirement by May 12, 2022 on clocking 70.
But Muhammad, who was appointed a supreme court judge in 2006 and sworn in on January 8, 2007, was born on December 31, 1953 — meaning he is younger than Peter-Odili and will not retire until 2023 when he hits the 70 figure.
For those who dream of another female CJN as the world marks International Women’s Day today, all hope is not lost.
Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, born on May 7, 1958, will not retire until 2028 and is due to move to No 5 very soon.
There is also Amina Adamu Augie, but she will be 70 in September 2023 when Muhammad may still be in his seat.
Uwani Musa Abba Aji is also waiting in the wings as she will not retire until November 7, 2026.
There is one more female justice, Helen M. Ogunwumiju, who was inaugurated as a justice of the supreme court in November 2020.