A human rights lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, has rejected the call for the appointment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and the Justices of the Supreme Court straight from the bar. He said that such an appointment would “be preceded by intense lobbying, recruitment of politicians into the scheme and some disgusting genuflection before the powers-that-be by the candidates jostling for the position.”
Keyamo argued that once appointed, such a CJN would have automatic reciprocal loyalty to his benefactors and appointer.
He said the development would open up such a revered office as that of the CJN to political manipulation.
“We can then safely say goodbye to an independent Supreme Court and, by implication, our budding democracy,” he argued.
In an open letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari and copied the Senate President and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Keyamo noted that the current “seamless, apolitical and non-controversial mode of succession at the Supreme Court over the years, especially since the civilian era, has produced a Supreme Court that has engendered respectability and dignity. It has also emerged as a rancour-free institution.”
Though Keyamo acknowledged two instances in the past where the CJN was picked from outside the Supreme Court – the cases of Justices Adetokunbo Ademola and Teslim Elias – he however noted that the colonial masters and the military regime that appointed them did not have deep partisan political interests like what politicians have today.
He argued that the other advantage of rising through the judicial hierarchy to the Supreme Court is that the very many attributes of a judicial officer become evident and tested as the progression takes place.
Keyamo identified these attributes to include productivity, hard work, patience, integrity and sagacity.
“There is no greater interview for an aspiring Justice of the Supreme Court than to look into his records at the lower judicial level and see the display of these attributes mentioned above. But there is hardly any trusted yardstick to test these attributes in a member of the Bar other than perception,” he said.
He admitted that there is no constitutional restriction as to where those to be appointed as Justices of the Supreme Court or Chief Justice of Nigeria could be picked but warned that in this era of deeply divided political interests, any attempt to introduce politics into the appointment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria would inevitably introduce deep divisions and rancour in the Supreme Court.
According to him, it would also compromise the independence and integrity of the Supreme Court.
Keyamo faulted the suggestion that appointments made directly from the bar would add vibrancy to the Supreme Court, saying what is paramount is to ensure that Justices at that level are substantially detached from various interest groups in the society.
He pointed out that over the years, lawyers develop deep ties with these various interests and individuals, stressing that when appointed to the Supreme Court as Justices or even the CJN, these interests cannot be shaken off overnight.
“Your Excellencies and my Lords, I cannot fathom what is meant by “introducing vibrancy and integrity to the Supreme Court” by the advocates of this change. Are they telling us the present Justices of the Supreme Court lack these qualities? The Supreme Court has handed down some of the most radical judgments over the years that have re-shaped our democratic landscape. If that is not “vibrancy”, what then is “vibrancy”? If these distinguished jurists did not have integrity, how come they have given so many judgments against the ruling parties in the past and present, which have aided the survival of the opposition in Nigeria? If not for judicial intervention, how would the present ruling party have made it to power? I find this rationale of “introducing vibrancy and integrity to the Supreme Court” extremely insulting and demeaning to the present crop of distinguished jurists at the Supreme Court,” he explained.