Governance Institutions: The Nigerian Supreme Court

 In CPPA Archives, Governance & Political Economy, Thinking Aloud

Following Nigeria’s first democratic transfer of power in 2015, CPPA looks ahead to the critical work of institution building needed to consolidate Nigeria’s democracy.  First in a series of articles about various institutions is a look at the Supreme Court.


  • The Supreme Court came into being in 1963
  • Between 1963 and 2015, 89 judges have sat on the Nigerian Supreme Court bench
  • 14 Chief Justices have presided over the court in the same period
  • Presently, the Supreme Court is made of the Chief Justice and 14 other Justices


  • Appointment into the Supreme Court in Nigeria is customary by way of elevation from the Court of Appeal
  • All the current justices of the Nigerian Supreme Court were elevated to the Court from the Court of Appeal which is done on quota system of geopolitical representation
  • Comparatively, the American Supreme Court has 4 professors in on its bench; the Canadian Supreme Court has 2 professors, a researcher, and 2 former civil servants on its roll; and South Africa’s highest court has 2 renowned legal scholars as well as a human rights lawyer on its bench.
Country Number of Justices Appointment Retirement Age Experience
Nigeria 15 By the President and subject to the confirmation of the Senate 70years 15 years experience as a legal practitioner
United States of America 9 By the President and subject to the approval of the Senate. No retirement age No stated qualification
India 29 By the President on the recommendation of the Supreme Court’s collegium 65 years 10 years experience as a lawyer or 5 years as a Judge of a High Court
Constitutional Court of South Africa 11 By a public recruitment process and then the President appoints from pool. A non-renewable term of 12 years Any appropriately qualified woman or man
England and Wales 12 Public recruitment process 70 years 7 years relevant legal experience
Malaysia 11 Royal appointment with the advice of the Prime Minister 65 years
Israel 15 By a Selection Committee. 70 years 10 years experience as a lawyer or a District Judge of at least 5 years
Canada 9 Appointment by the Governor General-in-Council 75 years Persons who have been judges of a superior court, or members of the bar for ten or more years
Norway 20 70 years Judges must have a law degree with excellent academic record and be at least 30 years old



  • The performance of the Nigerian Supreme Court in terms of cases handled in a year is at par with those of other countries. In the 2011 legal year, the Court disposed off 163 cases compared to the 75-80 cases annually handled by the American Supreme Court.


  • One distinct feature of the Nigerian Supreme Court is the rate of turnover of judges of the court. Comparison between Nigeria and the United States shows that between 1958 and 2015, Nigeria has had 14 Chief Justices and 89 justices of the Supreme Court, while the United States between the same period has had 4 Chief Justices and has appointed 21 persons to the Supreme Court bench.


  • 1962: Nigeria’s very first indigenous Chief Justice, Adetokunbo Ademola was accused of partisanship and involvement in politics in the Chief Obafemi Awolowo was convicted of treason and jailed
  • 1993: The late human rights activist, Chief Gani Faweyinmi, accused the Supreme Court of receiving Mercedes Benz cars as gift from the government of General Babangida.
  • 1994: late Gen. Sanni Abacha publicly accused the Judiciary of being corrupt, as well as polarized along ethnic, tribal, and political lines. He set up the Justice Kayode Eso panel in 1994 to investigate allegations of corruption in the judicial system.
  • 2005: Ephraim Duru, counsel to Globe Motors, accused the former Chief Justice of the Federation, Mohammed Uwais, in open court, of corruption.
  • 2011: The President of the Court of Appeal accused the Chief Justice of attempting to influence the result of the Sokoto State gubernatorial elections tribunal.


Country Annual Salary
Nigeria $20, 855
United States of America $244,400
India $17,421
Constitutional Court of South Africa $148,175
England and Wales $320, 357
Malaysia $ 117,656
Canada $ 358,000
Norway $262,600


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