*Awomolo SAN, Ahamba SAN Advocate For Meritocracy In Appointment Of Justices
*Anachebe SAN Alleges Nepotism And Favouritism In Appointment Process
A Former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Uwais has given the reason behind the policy which restricts the elevation of legal practitioners from the bar directly to the Supreme Court bench.
In an interview with Vanguard, Uwais justified the policy which was initiated during his time as Chief Justice between 1995-2006 on grounds of judgement experience and integrity.
He said, “I belong to the old school. It was during my time as CJN that we said no, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who want to come to the Bench should start from the level of the High Court or at best at the level of the Court of Appeal. That was the policy when I was a member of the National Judicial Council, NJC, and I still remain with that view.
“Part of the problem is not just the ability of the judge you want. There is the issue of integrity. If you have been a judge at the High Court or Court of Appeal before coming to the Supreme Court, you would have done cases where whether you are a corrupt person would have been discovered. From your judgments also, the Court of Appeal would have known how good you are if you are at the High Court. But if you are a legal practitioner, you haven’t written any judgment. So, there is no way you can be assessed in that respect.
“Again, you are not under the supervision of anybody when it comes to integrity and those are the two points why we felt, anybody who is at the Bar who wants to go to the Supreme Court bench should start from the lower Bench.”
The retired Jurist’s comments come on the heels of reawakened advocacy by Senior Lawyers for the admittance of eligible and well qualified lawyers to the Supreme Court bench.
Recently, a one-time President of the Nigerian Bar Association and Chairman of BoSAN, Chief Thompson Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN) in a speech delivered at the court session organised for retired Justice Aboki urged the new Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council, NJC, Justice Kayode Ariwoola to have a rethink on the mode of appointing justices to fill the existing vacancies at the apex court.
Although some top lawyers argued that Uwais no doubt meant well for the judiciary with his administration’s decision, they nonetheless said that the policy appears to have lost its value.
The pioneer Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Osun State, Asiwaju Gboyega Awomolo (SAN), in his own view said: “We have been agitating, urging that the appointment into the Supreme Court should not be restricted to justices of the Court of Appeal and that other qualified Nigerians in the academia and private legal practice be considered.
“Unfortunately, in the current exercise going on, Justice Tanko (now retired) administration restricted the recommendation again to justices at the Court of Appeal. Appointment into the Supreme Court now depends on the CJN who is the chairman of the NJC and the general thinking of the members of the NJC.
According to another respected silk, Chief Benbella Anachebe (SAN), he is of the view that the best brain should find their way to the Supreme Court.
“So, what we want is the best. The idea of dominance, tribalism, nepotism and other things should not apply to such sensitive position like appointment into the Supreme Court bench where policy decisions are supposed to be churned out. What we have today is a deliberate policy that a section of the country or sections of the country dominate in all spheres of life in governance. That is the greatest error of the Buhari regime where nepotism, religious considerations have been elevated.”
Another prominent member of the inner bar, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) said he was also in support of merit as yardstick to appoint justices into the Supreme Court but that he would not give any opinion contrary to the constitutional provisions.
But another top lawyer who does not want his name in print said that the present situation at the apex bench requires emergency situation.
He said pending the time the Supreme Court would sort itself out regarding the proper persons to appoint into the apex bench, he said the following measures must be taken urgently:
Amicus Curia role and officers should be introduced and standardized in the Supreme Court. An Advocate General Office should be set up to manage, consider, and participate in all public and constitutional law litigation.
Standards of legal assistants’ employment should be re-assessed. There should be evidence of a strong research capacity with a minimum number of publications spread across reputable journals in constitutional law, public law, business law and international law.
“I agree that in our federal system, the Supreme Court must reflect federal character so that all Nigerians will have a sense of representation in the court. However, federal character must be applied along with the principle of meritocracy.