17 justices are enough, says CJN

The acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, has disclosed that, appointing more judges or increasing the number of courtrooms are not the panacea to the problem of adjourned justice dispensation in the country.

Justice Onnoghen said the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court would remain jam-packed so long as the number of appeals proceeding from the high court’s was not regulated.

Justice Onnoghen disclosed this on Monday in Lagos while inaugurating the newly refurbished building of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal on Lagos Island.

He argued that it was erroneous to believe that delay at the Supreme Court was as a result of not having up to 21 justices prescribed by the constitution.

He noted that even the United States of America, with a higher population, had only nine Supreme Court Justices.

He argued that the current 17 justices on the Supreme Court bench were just enough for the country if the number of appeals proceeding to the appellate and apex courts was regulated.

Justice Onnoghen stated, “We always think that we can solve the problem of congestion in our courts by appointing more judges or justices, creating more divisions of the court; because the idea is that the more you have, the lesser the workload in court, but it has not been so; but it has not been proved right. It has rather been proved wrong, because the more divisions you create, the more cases get filed. The more judges and justices you appoint, the more cases that get filed; which points to the fact that we have really not hit the nail on the head.

“The solution lies in making every appeal to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court by leave; that is where the solution lies, it doesn’t lie in multiplying the number of divisions and the judges. No. It lies in controlling the jurisdiction of the court, the quantity, the number of cases that get to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.”

“If we have 21 vacancies for the Supreme Court, believing that will be the solution; no, it isn’t. Apart from the physical constraint that the Supreme Court has in terms of space, there is equally the other idea that we should look at. Which of the countries in the whole world can you point to that has that kind of number of Justices on the Supreme Court bench? There is none. Even in America, as large as it is, there are nine. Go to India, none.

“The number 17 is adequate for our size if we can only solve the problem by controlling the volume of traffic that gets to the Supreme Court.”



  1. The judges in the lower courts should be more thorough in their judgement and not be leaving grounds for appeal on technical or any other frivolous grounds.

  2. Very good talk CJN. Nigeria prides itself with BIG GOVERNMENT that has become ineffective. All our national resources go to concurrent expenditures with little or nothing left for development. If the USA can do with 9 Justices of the Supreme Court, Nigeria can surely do with 17 or less. Nigeria must reduce big government including Reducing the size of NASS. Using technology to improve efficiency and effectiveness of government is the way to survive in the 21st Century. Otherwise we will be borrowing $30bn just to be paying salaries of governments at all tiers without development of the Nation.

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