- Want appointment on merit, not federal character
By Alex Enumah
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, were among other leaders who Saturday advocated new reforms in the judiciary, particularly as it pertains to the appointment of judges.
The leaders, who spoke at a webinar organised by the Justice Research Institute, said the reforms have become necessary in order to restore the honour and dignity of the judiciary and judges lost to the manipulation of politicians and various sectional interests in the country.
All those who spoke agreed that the integrity of the judicial system is central to the country’s democracy because the courts decide who is properly elected or not.
They noted that when people lose faith in the judicial system, they have no choice but to resort to self help.
While arguing that the perceived lapses in the judiciary and entire democracy should not be entirely blamed on judges, the vice-president disclosed that the judiciary is constantly under pressure from politicians and other interest groups to do their bidding.
“You can’t pick out the judiciary alone as causes of failure. Nigerian elite, politicians want to own things; they want every decision to favour them. They influence how judges are appointed.
“Today, you can own the judge, tomorrow another person can own the judge – it doesn’t make sense. We need to have this conversation. It is not enough to say judges are bad,” Osinbajo said.
On his part, the CJN said he was willing to accept any proposal that would reform the judiciary for better performances.
“This is something for the nation and not for individuals. If the law has conferred powers on an individual, it must be exercised. But, I’m 100 per cent ready for reforms,” he said.
The Chief Justice of Ghana, Kwasi Anin-Yeboah, who was represented at the webinar by a Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana, Justice Samuel Marful-Sau, said only those with proven integrity and qualification should be appointed judges.
“It could be directly from the bar or a form of promotion,” he said.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, lamented that federal character no longer guaranteed appointment of quality judges, stating that appointment should be based on merit.
“We need to strike a balance between merit and ethnic balancing. Federal character must give way to merit,” he said.
But a panelist and Justice of the Supreme Court, Mrs Amina Augie, said the federal character should be retained in the appointment of judges to avoid a situation where they may come from one side of the country.
She said: “Every part of the country has competent persons. The federal character has come to stay; it is something we have to accept. But we have to evolve a system where we appoint the best; to sieve the wheat from the chaff.”
Augie, however, agreed that lobbying for judges’ appointments was rubbing off on the quality of judges.
She called for the National Judicial Council (NJC) to prepare a data on the rating of judges for subsequent appointments and elevation.