By NBF News

Ahead of the 2011 general elections and its attendant high rate of litigations, the Supreme Court has disclosed plans to increase the number of its Justices to 21 to enable it cope with the increasing workload of the court.

Chief Justice of Nigeria [CJN], Justice Aloysius Katsina- Alu, who made the disclosure on Thursday said the move was not only to fast track the dispensation of justice but also to clear both the backlog of cases and new ones.

Speaking after administering the oath of office on the two Justices of the court, Justice Katsina-Alu reiterated his call on judicial officers to keep up to the spirit and letter of their oath of office by sustaining the confidence of the nation's judiciary.

While conceding that the third arm of government cannot be completely isolated from the canker worm of corruption, it's certainly not on a large scale as being propagated.

Those sworn in were, Justices Suleiman Galadima and Bode Rhodes-Vivour.

Justice Galadima was until his new appointment, a Justice of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt while Justice Rhodes-Vivour served in the Jos Division of the Court of Appeal.

Galadima is from the North Central zone of the country while Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour is from the South West zone.

Speaking on the need for the appointment of more Justices of the apex court, the CJN noted that if the present number of 15 Justices of the court is to be maintained, in view of the increasing workload of the court, 'it will not be feasible for them to hear and dispose of cases expeditiously.'

According to him, 'in January 2010, when I assumed duty as the Chief justice of Nigeria, there were 15 Justices on the Supreme Court bench, including my humble self. Between January 1, and September 13, 2010, four of my brother Justices retired, having attained the constitutional retirement age of 70 years.

'With the swearing-in of the two new justices a couple of minutes ago, our number is now 15. This number is no doubt inadequate to cope with the volume of work in the court.'

Katsina-Alu disclosed that between July 2009 and September 2010, a total of 905 cases were filed before the court, comprising civil appeals, civil motion, criminal appeals and originating summons.

'Indeed, the above new cases and originating summons do not include the ones that are pending in the court. I am aware that the number of the serving Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria has never exceeded 17. If this number is to be maintained in view of the increasing workload of the court, it will not be feasible for 17 Justices to hear and dispose of the cases expeditiously.'

He explained that by the provisions of section 230 [2] of the 1999 Constitution, the Supreme Court shall consist of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and such number of Justices of the court, not exceeding 21, as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.

'To cope with both the backlog of cases and new ones, it is my desire therefore, in consultation particularly with my brother Justices of the Supreme Court to intimate the process for appointment of full complement of justices for the court.'

While charging the new justices to work together with their colleagues in panels and to shun corruption, Katsina-Alu said the National Judicial Council [NJC] would not hesitate to dismiss any erring judicial officer in line with its constitutional powers.