by Kunle Olasanmi |
For quite some time, there have been some complaints against the ongoing exercise of appointing some justices for the 20 vacant positions at the Court of Appeal Bench.
Complaints Against Appointment of Court of Appeal Justices While some said the appointments offended Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) on the ground that Federal Character Principle was not observed because the appointment was based on ‘’ethnic, religious and primordial reasons’’.
Others said the list compiled by President of the Court of Appeal was jettisoned in favour of the one later compiled by the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) with the handwriting of the politicians. The FJSC’s list, the critic said, was prepared under the guise of the principle of Federal Character and geographical spread, saying under the NJC Guidelines for Appointment of Judges, Federal Character is the least factor for consideration for appointment of judicial officers. , Besides, the writers who double as lawyers held that the names of candidates from the North consist of only Muslim Judges. ‘’No single Christian Judge, featured in the list’’. They further alleged that none of the lawyers that applied was considered or appointed, saying ‘’only members of the Bench were nominated for appointment to the Court of Appeal, to the exclusion of the Bar and Academia’’.
It is not healthy in an argument to approbate and reprobate or approve and disapprove, for in one hand saying the appointments were not spread and in another saying they were tilted in favour of federal character principle rather than merit. At the risk of sounding immodest, the petitions or allegations were either borne out of mischief or ignorant of procedural rules for the appointment of judicial officers, as there were more syllables than proof of evidence.
Procedural Rules For Appointment Of Judicial Officers
The need for a change in the criteria for the appointment of Judicial Officers in Nigeria prompted judiciary leadership to come up with the new Revised National Judicial Council (NJC) Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the Appointment of Judicial Officers of all Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria in 2014.
It was clear then that the old Guidelines and Rules had become unworkable as it saw anachronisms such as the limitation that saw only Justices of the Court of Appeal, as of right, making it to the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Under the new, more rigorous and transparent rules, any qualified legal practitioner with the requisite intellect has the opportunity of making it to any Court in the land and even to the posts of Heads of Federal and States Superior Courts, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
The ‘’Revised 2014 NJC Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the Appointment of Judicial Officers of all Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria’’ dictate steps required to follow, for instance from the point of nomination till the point of appointment of the nominees which must be followed. It would be discerned from below that there can never come a condition to warrant the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) list and the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) list because one must give rise to the other. The FJSC list is always derived from the list produced by the PCA.
Appointment of Lawyers to Appellate Courts
Rule 3 (6) of the Guidelines encourages competition between Bar and the Bench for the judicial officer’s appointment to vacant judicial offices and that that be determined among other requirements of the number of judgements delivered and number of cases contested at the Bar. The provision state unequivocally thus, “and in the case of appointment from the Bar, evidence of 6 contested cases in the last 5 years; (ii) sound knowledge of law, (iii) seniority at the Bar and or the Bench, (iv) Federal Character or geographical spread and where necessary and possible, without compromising the independence of the judiciary or allowing politics to permeate or influence the appointment.”
Although, the main purpose of the new guidelines was to stop Judges relying on mere seniority in the system for promotion onto higher Bench, but experience has shown that no matter how lazy a judge is, it would be difficult for a lawyer to compare number of cases he contested with number of judgement delivered by a judge at a given period of time. Of course, an average judicial officer can boast of ten times of judgements submitted by a highly rated senior advocate.