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Wanted : A more secure tenure for Nigerian judges (2)

By Emmanuel Majebi

The Chief Justice of Nigeria or the Chief Judge of a State against whom an allegation of inability to misconduct or contravention of the code of conduct has been made under this section shall be entitled to defend himself in person or by a Legal practitioner of his own choice before the investigating panel…”

(6) The Investigation panel shall at the conclusion of the investigation in respect of the Chief Justice of Nigeria or the Chief Judge of a State submit the report of it’s finding to the president of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Assembly who shall immediately submit the said report to the Senate or the House of Assembly of the State for consideration as the case may require.

(7) The Senate or the House of assembly of a state shall within a period of not more than 60 days from the date of the receipt thereof consider such report.

(8) If the report is considered and confirmed by an address supported by 2/3rd majority of the Senate or house of Assembly of the State, the President of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Assembly shall send the decision thereof to the President or Governor … who shall thereupon remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria or the Chief Judge of a state from office…”

Section 277 of the 1989 Constitution provides for an equally grueling removal procedure for other Judicial officers other than the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chief Judges of the States, save for the fact that rather than an independent panel investigating the allegations as provide for above, in the case of the other Judges the allegation is to be investigated by the Judicial Service Commission (which was the equivalence of the National Judicial Council(NJC) which we have in the 1999 Constitution).

The procedure laid out above as provided in section 276 and 277 of the defunct 1989 Constitution is no doubt self explanatory. It provides for full blown out impeachment procedure for judges mainly before a panel of their peers unlike the provisions in the 1999 Constitution where the allegations against them will be made by politicians and their trial also by politicians.

And even though one must immediately point out that with the propensity of our political class for mischief even this 1989 provisions can be subverted just as similar provisions for impeachment of Executive officer were subverted in the past; but it is on the whole a much more protective provision for judicial officers than what we have in the 1999 Constitution and it should be seriously considered for adoption in the amendment of the 1999 Constitution as a true guarantor of the independence of the Judicial arm of government.

It sends ice cold shivers down my spine to think that under the present arrangement in the Section 292 of the 1999 Constitution all that the President needs to remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria is “……. an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate Praying that he be so removed for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct…” .

The provision of this 1999 section unlike the one quoted above viz section 276 of the 1989 Constitution does not even expressly provide for a trial for the Chief Justice.

The result of the shallowness of section 292 of the Constitution is what we saw under the 2nd republic in Borno during the attempted removal of Justice Kalu Anya Chief Judge of the state, and which Continued since we returned to democratic rule in 1999 in Oyo State, kogi State and the latest Kwara State.

And knowing the propensity of our politicians to copy their colleagues one would not be surprised if in the near feature Chief Judges start tumbling out of their offices like a tall pack of cards. To secure our democracy we need to secure our Judiciary and I feel that that security will go a long way if we adopt the above stated provisions of the 1989 Constitution for the removal of Judges.

The only variation I will canvass for is that there should be no dichotomy between judges, the provision I enumerated above should be adopted for the removal of all Judges After all a Judiciary where only the Chief Justice and the Chief Judges have security of tenure is not desirable in the battle to enthrone a truly independent Judiciary.


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