The high number of judges involved in age falsification controversies shows that despite the tasking nature of the work, many judges would not want to retire when due.
Why would a judge want to stay on despite the neck-breaking nature of the work? Due to the demands of justice by litigants and the public, judges sometimes work through the night to meet up with cases filed before them, with many of the proceedings taken in long hand. As a result, it is believed that many judges suffer from stress-related illnesses.
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The pressure on a judge who has hundreds of casefiles before him or her is further compounged under Section 294(1) of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999, which provides that they “shall deliver its decision in writing not later than 90 days after the conclusion of evidence and final addresses and furnish all parties to the case or matter determined with duly authenticated copies of the decision within seven days of the delivery thereof.”
Also, the overall conduct of judges has been circumscribed under Rules 1.3 and 3.7 of the 2016 Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
For these reasons, many lawyers have vowed not to touch the role of the bench with a long pole. But despite these, some people want to work as judges and stay for as long as their bodies can carry them.
The National Judicial Council (NJC) has dealt with numerous cases involving age falsification by judges to stay on. For instance, in September 2016, the council announced the compulsory retirement of two of the High Court judges of Niger State over age falsification.
Also, in April 2020, the NJC sacked a judge of the Imo State High Court following the falsification of date of birth from 1950 to 1958. The council said findings showed that he was supposed to have retired in November 2015 when he clocked the mandatory retirement age of 65 years.
The council also sacked a judge of the Yobe State High Court for falsifying his age on two occasions. He was said to have declared February 1, 1955, and later August 27, 1955. He later declared December 30, 1959. He was supposed to retire on February 1, 2020, by virtue of his declared date of birth of February 1, 1955.
Similarly, the council found an Osun State High Court judge to have falsified his date of birth from September 3, 1955, to Sept 1957.
In all the cases, the NJC advised the state governments to deduct from the gratuity of the judges all salaries received in the period they ought not to be in service and remitted to the public purse.
Meanwhile, it has been suggested that the perquisites or benefits of office may be the reason for the attitude of judges who falsify their age to stay in the job. By Nigerian standards, the job of the judicial officer is one of the best remunerated jobs around.
Apart from salaries, judges are entitled to yearly medical trips abroad, cars, houses, furniture, security, recreation, office and domestic aides among other freebies of office.
Reacting to age falsification among judges, a constitutional lawyer and presidential adviser on anti-corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), said any judge involved in age fraud lacked integrity and honour.
“He is a man whose judgment can be purchased because he has no values and no ethics,” he said.
For Dayo Akinlaja (SAN), the issue of age falsification in public service is an integrity problem.
“Heads or tails, whoever does that will invariably have to retire someday. So, what happens to the perquisites of office or the fear of the unknown afterwards?” he asked.
E.M.D. Umukoro Esq said the fear of leaving office early and state of mind are responsible for that attitude.
“No citizen should be found doing this, let alone a judicial officer. A judge must be honest and live above board but when a judicial officer is now involved in something like that you can be sure it speaks volumes,” he said.
For Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq., judges involved in age falsification may be concerned about both the benefits of their office and the fear of the unknown.
According to Lagos lawyer, Raymond Adekunle Olaiya, the mandatory retirement age of judges should be increased to enable them to stay on longer, while technology should be used to enhance their work.