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Uproar over appointment of lawyers as S/Court, A/Court justices

On January 30, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, invited the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to nominate suitably qualified lawyers to apply…

On January 30, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, invited the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to nominate suitably qualified lawyers to apply for appointment as justices of the Supreme Court. The Appeal Court led by Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa also did the same.

Following these information, the panel set up by NBA President Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), nominated nine persons for Supreme Court appointment. They are: Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Anthony Ikemefuna Idigbe (SAN), Anthony Idigbe (SAN), Yunus Ustaz Usman (SAN), Babatunde Fagbohunlu (SAN), Miannayaaja Essien (SAN), Awa Uma Kalu (SAN), Professor Auwalu Hamisu Yadudu and Tajudeen Oladoja.

For the Appeal Court appointments, the NBA nominated 12 people. They are: Nnamdi Ibegbu (SAN, Anambra); former Judge of Court of Appeal of Gambia, Adegoke Oluremi (Ondo); Enewa Rita Ifeyinwa (Delta); Alma Eluwa (Imo); Oladipo Tolani (Kwara); Dr. Mohammed Alkali (Borno); Prof. Nsogurua J. Udombana (Akwa Ibom); Auwalu Mu’allimu (Kano); Prof. Augustine R. Agom (Benue); Gbadamosi Kazeem (Oyo); Dr. Yemi Oke (Ogun), and Dr Ibrahim Abdullahi (Sokoto).

According to the NBA, 187 candidates submitted expression of interest forms for the Appeal Court out of which, the 12 nominees, who were called to the Bar between 1979 and 2000, were selected for interview by the National Judicial Council (NJC).

However, the nominations have continued to generate controversy among lawyers and other judicial analysts. While some allege that some of the nominated lawyers have political affiliations that will not bode well for the country’s judiciary, others question the criteria and consideration for the selection.

Others, however, said that this is not the first time judges to the apex court bench would be appointed from outside the judiciary. They recalled when the late Teslim Elias and late Augustine Nnamani who were both Attorney- Generals of the Federation at different times, were appointed straight to the Supreme Court Bench, with Elias appointed as CJN.

Section 231 subsection (3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended distinctly states: “A person shall not be qualified to hold the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria or of a Justice of the Supreme Court, unless he is qualified to practise as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period of not less than 15 years.”

Also, Rule 4 (i) of the NJC Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the Appointment of Judicial Officers of all Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria provides for candidates seeking to be appointed judicial officers to have:  a) good character and reputation, diligence, hard work, honesty, integrity and sound knowledge of law and consistent adherence to professional ethics.

The rule also requires that candidate must have the following criteria: a) active, successful practice at the Bar, including satisfactory presentation of cases in court as legal practitioner either in private or as a legal officer in any public service;

c) Satisfactory and consistent display of sound and mature judgement in the office of a Chief Registrar or Chief Magistrate;

d) Credible record of teaching law, legal research in a reputable university and publication of legal works, and in addition to any or all the above.

For the former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Joseph Bodunrin Daudu (SAN), if a SAN is contemplating going to the bench, he can only go to the Supreme Court, not the High Court and the Court of Appeal as the criteria for the SAN award and call to the High Court are almost the same.

 “Consider two people (lawyers) are both 10 years (post-call) so while you opt for the Bench, I opted to take SAN, so we are at per. If there is anything to be taken next at the Bench, I should not come back to what I should have got before going to be SAN. You see the logic behind it. Because I could easily without being a SAN go to the High Court Bench. So having become SAN, I have gone beyond that bound and I should now go to the next level.  

So SANs should be appointed Supreme Court judges not High Court judges because these are people who have distinguished themselves and it is a sacrifice they are making to leave that and go and take paid employment,” he said.

Octogenarian activist, Tunji Gomez, has however advised against appointing SANs as justices of the Supreme Court as such appointment would mark entrance of political judges into the apex court and erode the independence of the judiciary, adding that the move will kill the morale of the justices of the Court of Appeal who, according to him, had paid their dues over the years and were awaiting their turn to be elevated to the apex court.

While calling on the CJN to drop Barr Yemi Oke from the shortlist for the bench because of his affiliation to the PDP, he also advised that persons with certain tendencies should not be allowed to sit on the bench.

As the controversy over the judicial nominations rages, Nigerians will be following who eventually make the cut and the qualities they bring to the bench.

 

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