Posted by Ahuraka Isah, Chibuzo Ukaibe, Kunle Olasanmi | 28 October 2019 | 1,024 times
Nigerian lawyers have renewed their agitation for representation in the Supreme Court Bench. Their quest is prompted by the National Judicial Council (NJC’s) recent recommendation of four justices of the Appeal Court to President Muhammadu Buhari for elevation as justices of the country’s apex court.
LEADERSHIP gathered that the lawyers were also pushed by the NJC’s exclusion of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA’s) from the four justices it recommended for elevation to the apex court bench. The NBA had recommended nine lawyers including six Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) for appointment as justices of the Supreme Court on February 9, 2017.
In separate interviews with LEADERSHIP yesterday, the lawyers argued that there should be a change in the criteria for the appointment of the Supreme Court justices as provided in the “Revised 2014 NJC Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the Appointment of Judicial Officers of all Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria.’’
They said that the revised guidelines came up because the old ones had become unworkable as it identified anachronisms such as the limitation that saw only justices of the Court of Appeal, as of right, making it to the Supreme Court.
The lawyers insisted that the same parameters for the selection of suitably qualified Court of Appeal justices to the Supreme Court can’t be used to determine qualified legal practitioners with the requisite intellect making it to apex court.
To ensure that the lawyers have a smooth sail to the Supreme Court, they called for the amendment of Rule 3 (6) of the Guidelines, which encourages competition between the Bar and the Bench for the judicial officer’s appointment to vacant judicial offices, which is partly determined among other requirements by the number of judgements delivered and number of cases contested at the Bar.
The legal practitioners also called for a review of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to guarantee compulsory appointments of certain number of lawyers to the Supreme Court at all material time.
The lawyers asserted that if some of them were appointed unto the apex court bench, they would bring fresh ideas, mentality and reduction of monotony in the judicial system.
On Thursday, October 24, 2019, the NJC recommended to President Buhari for the appointment of Justices Adamu Jauro (North-East), Emmanuel A. Agim (South-South), C. Oseji (South-South), and Helen M. Ogunwumiju (South-West), all of the Court of Appeal as Supreme Court justices.
In reaction to the NJC’s recommendation of all justices of the Appeal Court for the vacant positions, the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) said: ‘’I’ve always canvassed for the injection of fresh blood, fresh approach, fresh ways of thinking and fresh mentality into the Supreme Court Bench rather than the current monotony, bandwagon and one way of handling adjudication in the country.
‘’Yes, it has happened again by appointing only the Court of Appeal justices or making it as of right to the Supreme Court. But we have to continue pushing and advocating for outsiders to be considered onto the Supreme Court Bench in the interest of the country and justice delivery system.
‘’But I am not asking for the appointment of all manner of SANs because some of them aid and abet the looting of the country, they are the cause of hardened corruption, economic waste, leakages and inefficiency in the management of public resources,’’ he said.
NBA president, Paul Usoro (SAN) said: ‘’It is a situation we are taking up at a higher level already. I don’t think the situation, the likely appointment of SANs to the Supreme Court Bench is foreclosed, there would be more appointments to the apex court.’’
Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), said: “Ask the NBA president, he was there when those being elevated to the Supreme Court were being interviewed and shortlisted by FJSC and NJC.
“There may still be two vacancies left, that for North Central and North West. But the lawyers are already shut out, it’s over for now,” he said.
Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN) said that ‘the NBA president is in a position to speak on this issue. Also bear in mind that NBA has representatives in the NJC and they are also in a position to speak on this issue.”
Barr Abubakar Sani called for the ‘’amendment of the constitution and/Supreme Court Act to specifically provide that appointees to the apex court should include at least a certain number of nominees of the NBA, in much the same way as membership of the NJC.
“The guidelines are not mandatory, they are just guidelines. The constitution and the Supreme Court Act should make it mandatory,” he said.
Barr Abanika Muktar Isah stated that the ‘’Revised 2014 NJC Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the Appointment of Judicial Officers of all Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria’’ requires a change in the criteria for the appointment of the Supreme Court justices.
“But Rule 3 (6) of that Guidelines which encourages competition between the Bar and the Bench for the judicial officer’s appointment to vacant judicial offices which has to be determined by the number of judgements delivered and number of cases contested at the Bar need to be altered,” he said.
Former chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen (then acting CJN) had on January 29, 2017 asked the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to nominate suitably qualified legal practitioners to apply for appointment as justice of the Supreme Court.
Onnoghen gave the NBA three days within which to forward the list of the nominees to his office.
Consequently, on January 30, 2017, the then NBA president, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), issued a notice to that effect to lawyers in the country. The deadline for the indication of such interest was February 3, 2017.
This notice read: “Pursuant to Section 231(2) of the 1999 Constitution, the acting CJN has invited the NBA to nominate suitably qualified legal practitioners to apply for appointment as justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“Interested legal practitioners are hereby required to send their hard copy profile to the following address: NBA House, 8th Floor, Office of the President, Plot 1101 Muhammadu Buhari Way, Central Business District, Abuja, FCT.
“Lawyers can also send their profile by email to: email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org.The deadline for the submission of profile shall be on February 3, 2017 at 5p.m. prompt. Please take note that this notice is urgent and important and the deadline shall not be extended.”
In response to Justice Onnoghen’s call, the NBA forwarded the names of nine lawyers, including six SANs, for consideration for appointment as justices of the Supreme Court on February 9, 2017.
The nominees were former NBA president, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), former attorney-general of Abia State, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN), Yunus Usman (SAN), Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), Mr. Babatunde Fagbohunlu (SAN), and Mrs. Miannayaaja Essien (SAN). Others were Awalu Yadudu, Tajudeen Oladoja, and Ayuba Giwa.
The nominees were called to the Bar between 1978 and 1988.
A total of 89 candidates were submitted Expression of Interest Forms to the NBA following the invitation by the then acting CJN.
Vacancies at the Supreme Court have traditionally been filled by elevating deserving justices of the Court of Appeal to the apex court.
Section 230 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which confirms the establishment of the Supreme Court stipulates that the apex court shall consist of the CJN and ‘’such number of justices of the Supreme Court, not exceeding 21, as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.’’
Section 3 (1) of the Act confirms 21 as the maximum number of justices for the apex court bench too.
Of the NBA’s nine nominees, there are only four spaces left to complete the maximum number for this last court of the land.
Rule 6 (1), however, states that, ‘’every candidate/judge/justice/chief judge/legal practitioner, who has been shortlisted shall undergo interview to be conducted by the National Judicial Council to ascertain his or her suitability for judicial office sought.’’
Rule 3 (6) of the Guidelines which encourages competition between the Bar and the Bench states that “and in the case of appointment from the Bar, evidence of six contested cases in the last five 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 from relying on mere seniority in the system for promotion onto higher Bench, there is no way a lawyer can contest for number of cases a judge could have delivered at a given period of time. A judge would always have more cases to present.
LEADERSHIP recalls that the former NBA president, Augustine Alegeh (SAN), hinted on September 21, 2015 that association had nominated some senior lawyers to the then CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed for appointment into the Supreme Court Bench.
NBA had nominated John Olusola Bayesan (SAN) from Kwara State and Prof. Dakas C.J. Dakas (SAN) from Plateau State for appointment to replace Justice John Fabiyi (Kogi), who retired in November 2015 from the Supreme Court Bench.
But Justice Ejembi Eko of the Appeal Court who hails from Benue State made it through the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC’s) shortlisting and the NJC’s recommendation to the President for consideration into the apex court.
This led to the NBA accusing the leadership of the judiciary of deliberately obstructing the senior lawyers from being appointed to the Supreme Court Bench. (LEADERSHIP)
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