Chief Justice of Nigeria from 1914 Till Date

Last updated on June 30th, 2022 at 01:43 pm


After the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates, the first colonial Governor-General of the amalgamated colony, Sir Frederick Lord Lugard unified the laws of the two colonies.

In effect, a single Supreme, Provincial and Native court system was established and the first Chief Justice of Nigeria Sir Edwin Speed was brought from Britain, Nigeria’s colonial master.

So, Nigeria had five colonial Chief Justices of the Federation before Independence on October 1, 1960: They were: Edwin Speed, Ralph Combe, Donald Kingdon, Sir John Verity, and Stafford Foster-Sutton


From 1960 to date, Nigeria has produced 16 indigenous Chief Justices of Nigeria. The first Nigerian head of the apex court was Adetokunbo Ademola. Justice Ademola succeeded a foreigner Stafford Foster Sutton.

According to Nigeria’s Constitution, the National Judicial Council (NJC) makes recommendations to Nigeria’s president for persons for the appointment to the Offices of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Justices of the Supreme Court and other nominations for other federal courts.

Below is a list of Head of Nigeria’s Supreme Court from 1914 to date:

NameYears in OfficeNotes
Sir Edwin Speed1914 – 1918First Chief of the Federation
Sir Ralph Combe1918 – 1929He was a British barrister before his appointment
Sir Donald Kingdon1929 – 1946Kingdon served with four colonial governors
Sir John Verity1946 – 1954He was a former Chief Justice of Zanzibar and British Guiana before his deployment to Nigeria
Sir Stafford Foster-Sutton1955 – 1958Stafford was the last colonial Chief of Justice of the Federation
Justice Adetokunbo AdemolaApril 1, 1958 – 1972He was an Egba Prince
Justice Taslim Olawale Elias1972–1975Taslim was the first Nigerian and African to become President of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. He was also the First Minister of Justice in Nigeria immediately after independence
Justice Darnley Arthur Alexander1975–1979
Justice Atanda Fatai-Williams1979–1983Williams presided over the Awolowo v. Shagari case after the August 11, 1979, presidential election.
Justice George Sodeinde Sowemimo1983–1985He presided over the Treasonable Felony trial of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and twenty-six of his associates
Justice Ayo Gabriel lrikefe 1985–1987Ayo was the former Attorney General of the Mid-Western State
Justice Muhammed Bello1987–1995
Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais1995–2006He was the Chief justice of the federation during the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha (late). He served under three governments: Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and President Olusegun Obasanjo
Justice Salisu Modibo Alfa Belgore2006–January 2007
Justice Idris Legbo KutigiJanuary 30, 2007 – December 30, 2009Kutigi was the Solicitor General and Permanent Secretary, North-Western State in 1976. He later became the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Niger State
Justice Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu2009–2011Aloysius was the Legal Officer at the Nigeria Ports Authority NPA
Justice Dahiru Musdapher August 29, 2011 – July 16, 2012 Dahiru was the former Chief Judge of the Kano State
Justice Aloma Mariam MukhtarJuly 16, 2012 – November 20, 2014First Nigerian female to become Chief Justice of the Federation of Nigeria
Justice Mahmud MohammedNovember 2014 – November 10, 2016Mahmud was the former Chief judge of Taraba State
Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu OnnoghenMarch 6, 2017 – January 25, 2019Onnoghen was the first head of the Supreme Court to be ‘removed’ in Nigeria on allegations of false declaration of assets
Justice Ibrahim Tanko MuhammadJanuary 25, 2019 – June 26, 2022He was forced to resign because of allegations of financial mismanagement against him by 14 supreme court justices
Justice Olukayode AriwoolaJune 27, 2022He assumed office on Monday, June 27, 2022


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Justice Ibrahim Muhammad Tanko retired
Justice Ibrahim Muhammad Tanko (rtd). Photo credit: Supreme Court of Nigeria

Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad was said to have been forced to sign a resignation letter by the cabals at the Presidency following allegations of financial impropriety jointly signed against him by 14 Supreme Court justices, according to a follow-up story by Daily Trust Publications.

His arranged resignation was made public on Monday, June 22, 2022. He was not seen in public on the same day.

By the allegation against him, Justice Tanko Muhammad became the first Chief Justice of Nigeria who resigned because of financial mismanagement allegations against him by his fellow justices.

Technically, he became the second CJN to be ‘removed’ by the Presidency.

Who is the incumbent CJN?

Justice Olukayode Ariwoola CJN succeeded Tanko Muhammed

Justice Olukayode Ariwoola is the present Chief Justice of Nigeria. He succeeded Justice Tanko Muhammed.

Who was the last colonial Chief Justice of Nigeria?

A British Judge Stafford William Powell Foster-Sutton was the last colonial Chief Justice of the Federation of Nigeria. He was in office from 1955 to 1958

Who is the longest-serving Chief Justice of Nigeria?

Donald Kingdon is Nigeria’s longest-serving Chief Justice. He was Nigeria’s Chief Justice for 17 years. Donald served under four colonial Governors: Graeme Thomson, Donald Cameron, Bernard Bourdillon and Arthur Richards.

Before his appointment as the Chief Justice, he served as the Attorney-General of Nigeria from 1919 to 1925.

Who is the first female Chief Justice of Nigeria?

Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar was the first female Chief of Nigeria and the federation. He was sworn into office as the 13th indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Goodluck Jonathan on July 16 2012.

Who is the first female lawyer from Northern Nigeria?

Who is the first Chief Justice of the federation to be suspended by the President?

Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen was the first Chief Justice of Nigeria to be suspended by Nigeria’s President. No Head of the Supreme Court witnessed such an embarrassing moment even during the dark days of the military regime in Nigeria.

Buhari suspended Justice Onnoghen on January 25, 2019, on false declaration of assets after the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) made its recommendation for his suspension on January 23, 2019.


  1. Featured image by @LeadwayPensure on Twitter
  2. National Judicial Council. “Past Chief Justices of Nigeria”. Retrieved April 14, 2022
  3. Opeoluwani Ogunjimi (July 13, 2012). “Justice Aloma Mukhtar: Will a woman make a difference?”. Retrieved April 16, 2022
  4. TheCable (January 25, 2019). “Buhari suspends Onnoghen, swears in Muhammad as new CJN”. Retrieved April 16, 2022

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