By Dayo Benson
AS part of ongoing efforts to make the judiciary more vibrant, stakeholders have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint Supreme Court Justices from outside, as constitution does not specify that such an appointment should be from within.
A group of lawyers and activists under the aegis of United Action for Change, UAC, made the recommendation at a round- table on access to justice, with a theme: “Repositioning the Judiciary,” held in Lagos. According to the group, judiciary needs individuals with radical ideas to transform it. UAC said: “The Constitution does not specify that a CJN must be appointed from the Supreme Court.”
The convener, Dr Muiz Banire (SAN) also condemned a situation where individuals who had abandoned legal practice for years were appointed judges and magistrates.
Victimisation of lawyers
“Someone may have been a lawyer for 10 years and then decide to go into catering, and such a person will then be appointed a judge. That is wrong. Only those in active practice should be appointed judges,” he said. Ikeja branch chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Yinka Farounbi decried a situation where only those who have ‘godfathers’ were appointed as judges, while more qualified persons are ignored.
Speakers at the event also decried victimisation of lawyers who write genuine petitions against judges . “How will the National Judicial Council, NJC, function if there are no whistle blowers? Even if a petition is withdrawn after the petitioner has been pressured to do so, the NJC should follow up to know if the allegations against the judge are true or not,” the group said.
Banire said NJC ought to have an effective monitoring system by sending its observers and investigators to courts rather than always wait for petitions before taking action against erring judges. A former Ikeja branch chairman of NBA, Mr Dave Ajetomobi, recalled that while he was in office, a list of lawyers being considered for appointment as judges were sent to the branch for vetting.
On the list, he said, was a lawyer who had ongoing disciplinary issues and was under probe by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. “In spite of our recommendation that the lawyer’s appointment be suspended until the case is cleared, the person was appointed a judge. So, we had a scandalous situation where a serving judge was appearing before the disciplinary committee.
“We have so many unfit people on the bench. Some sit by 11am daily rather than 9am. There are Supreme Court Justices who are consultants. They will tell you to deposit money to win a case,” he alleged. Ajetomobi recommended that all suggestions by NBA on nominees for judges should go straight to the NJC rather than through the Chief Judge who may sweep the recommendation under the carpet if a favoured candidate was affected.
He urged the judiciary to improve the welfare of court registrars and also told a story of a lawyer who went all the way to Kano for a case only to be told that that the court would not sit. The registrars’ excuse for not informing the lawyers was that they had no money to buy air time.
On how to transform the judiciary, Ajetomobi said: “Most members of the NJC are appointed by the CJN. That according to him need to change. Who disciplines the Supreme Court Justice? Time and again they do err because they are humans. Therefore, they should be answerable to a system that is independent of them.
“The CJN must come from outside the Supreme Court. For there to be a change in the judiciary, there must be radical change at the top,” he said.