Reinforce The Supreme Court — The Nation Editorial

Posted by News Express | 22 September 2022 | 194 times

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The valedictory session marking retirement of Justice Abdu Aboki from the Supreme Court last week provided an opportunity for stakeholders to ruminate over the state of the apex court. His colleagues, led by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Olukayode Ariwoola, bemoaned the telling effect that depletion of members had been having on their health.

In 2017, in view of the drop in the number of the justices to 12, eight more, including Aboki, were brought on board. But just four years after, the number has again dropped to 13. At the beginning of this year, there were 17, but health and age have taken their toll, and there is no end to that as many are already well advanced in age in the process of climbing the career ladder.

This calls for re-examination of the procedure for appointment to the Supreme Court. While Sections 230 and 231 of the 1999 Constitution prescribe the mode of ascending to the prestigious seats, it appears both the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the President who are saddled with the task have been reluctant to act promptly. This must change if the Supreme Court in particular, and the judiciary as a whole, are to be saved. The appointment process, as canvassed by the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria at the valedictory session, needs adjustment.

For too long, justices from the Court of Appeal have been routinely elevated to the apex court. The senior advocates contend, quite correctly in our view, that if no law shuts the door against advocates and academics, it is wrong for an imaginary or arbitrary door to be erected against judges. All that the constitution requires is that only lawyers who have at least 10 years post-call experience could occupy the highest Bench. However, the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria,  Justice Tanko Muhammad, had contended that it would be unfair to those who chose life on the Bench if they are sidelined for advocates who had been well paid by their clients over the years.

Both could be merged. Augustine Nnamani was a litigation lawyer who later became Attorney-General of the Federation before his elevation to the highest court of the land. Our Supreme Court should be fit for only the best. Whether serving as an advocate, an academic or on the Bench of the appeal court, no one should be discriminated against.

One reason for the fast depletion of the ranks is that those who moved from the magistracy up to the appeal court are already approaching the retirement age of 70 before landing at the Supreme Court that is saddled with hearing all sorts of matter, ranging from land disputes, chieftaincy and communal conflicts, industrial relations, business contracts and political contests. Yet, as things stand today, the court can only afford one full sitting at a time.

The NJC has a duty to urgently nominate candidates to fill all vacant seats. It is time suggestions to review the structure of the Judiciary are revisited, even if the constitution has to be reviewed. Many cases should terminate at the appeal court that has a spread in many states of the federation, leaving the apex court to handle cases that involve substantial interpretation of the law and intergovernmental disputes. In that case, backed by robust modern technology, the highest court would be able to adjudicate matters before it in good time.

About five months to the general elections next year, the Supreme Court should be in proper shape to rise to the occasion. As the Kenyan presidential election showed, matters could be concluded before the President is inaugurated. In any case, it was so at the inception of our Second Republic.

It smacks of disregard for the third arm of government when vacancies are left unfilled for months. This is the easiest of the weaknesses of the structure to handle. It should no longer be delayed.


Source: News Express

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