Justice Dahiru Musdapher
Kunle Akogun and
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Dahiru Musdapher, Tuesday submitted no less than 52 amendments to the 1999 Constitution, as amended, to Senate President David Mark, which in his view will strengthen the judiciary and reduce the seemingly intractable delays in determining cases.
The amendments, which he tagged ‘Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (5th Alteration) Bill, 2012’, if they sail though, will affect the qualification for the appointment of judges, retirement and discipline among other issues.
The alterations affect, among other things, the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court by providing that appeals from the Court of Appeal on interlocutory decisions and other matters shall be by the consent of the Supreme Court.
He also proposed a provision to streamline the traditional jurisdiction of the Federal High Court to preserve what the CJN describes as, “those core jurisdictions of the Federal High Court particularly those that affect the Federal Government and its agencies”.
He suggested that qualification for appointment as a justice of the Supreme Court be raised from 15 years post call experience to 25 years.
In the bill, to qualify for appointment as a justice of the Court of Appeal, a legal practitioner must have been qualified to practise law for 20 years. Under the present dispensation, a 12-year post call experience suffices.
Similarly, the provision for appointment as a judge of a high court has been jacked up to 15 years post call up from the present 10 years.
Musdapher also suggested that the number of justices of the court be reduced to 16 as against the present 21.
He recommended that an advisory jurisdiction be created for the Supreme Court. To this effect, he recommended that a new section, Section 232 (A) be inserted in the constitution.
Other amendments in the bill regulate procedures at the courts aimed at reducing the time it takes to give final judgment in cases.
For instance, the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court was modified to reduce the number of interlocutory appeals to the apex court.
Section 233 of the constitution will be amended to make sure that disputes over chieftaincy affairs would terminate at the Court of Appeal.
The amendment, however, retained some of the controversial areas in the administration of justice in the country. For instance, whereas it had been suggested that the CJN should not double as the chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), the amendment supports the retention of the arrangement.
The implication is that there is likelihood that a similar face-off between Justice Ayo Salami and retired Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu could recur in the future.
Other proposals include:
•To alter the composition of the NJC and the Federal Judicial Commission (FJC) to ensure greater balance;
•Removal of judicial officers has been streamlined to ensure a greater degree of fairness;
•Old Section 295 regarding reference on questions of law has been deleted as it has been identified as a means to stall the swiftness of the trial process.
The CJN after presenting the amendments added that despite the separation of powers, it is imperative that the National Assembly and the judiciary work in harmony for the common good of the nation.
Speaking after the chief justice had presented the proposed amendments, Senator Mark assured Musdapher that the proposals would address all grey areas to promote the quick dispensation of justice.
Mark said: “Anything we can do to deliver justice swiftly without delay is welcome. Justice delayed is justice denied.”
He added, “The three arms of government are important. We must work together to promote democracy and deliver the dividend to our people,” promising that the amendment would be done with dispatch to correct all the grey areas in the 1999 Constitution, in an open, honest and transparent manner.
The CJN’s submission of the amendments came with the clarification by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, yesterday foreclosing the extension of the June deadline for the submission of memoranda on constitution amendments by interested members of the public.
Ekweremadu, who is also the deputy senate president, stated this when the International Republic Institute (IRI), led by its Country Director, Robina Namusisi, and IRI consultant, Charles Lasham, paid him a courtesy visit in his office.
The deputy senate president said the decision not to extend the June deadline was to enable the committee to meet the April 2013 date already set to deliver on the legislature's promise.