Body of SANs Laments Executive, Politicians’ Interference with Appointment of Judges

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*Proposes senate’s confirmation before appointment by President
*NBA seeks full financial autonomy for Judiciary

By Alex Enumah

The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BoSAN) on Monday, decried the continued interference of the executive arm of government and politicians in the process of appointment of judicial officers, stressing that such act threatens the independence of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers.

The body which noted the trend both at the federal and state levels said it was a subtle means of intimidating, directing and controlling the third arm of government.

BoSAN, while presenting its grievances at the opening of the 2020/2021 Legal Year of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), lamented that, “for one whole year, the final decisions and recommendations of the National Judicial Council on appointment of Justices were kept under cooler, without any explanation even to the NJC other than to show superiority over or power to control the Judiciary.

Foremost senior lawyer and Life Bencher, Asiwaju Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, who presented the address of BoSAN, said that the process of appointment of judicial officers at all levels “have manifested outright disregard for the principle of separation of powers and independence of the Judiciary”.

“It is bizarre when the National Judicial Council recommended the appointment of 32 judges and at the end, after an administrative review by people who are not qualified to do so, only 11 scaled through the controlling administrative process”, he said.

While he conceded that the constitution gives the power of appointment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justices of the Supreme Court and some other judicial officers to the president, subject to the confirmation of the Senate, he argued that a holistic reading of the constitution, “does not allow subjecting the final decision of the NJC on such matters of appointment…to any administrative inquisition or review by people who are not technically competent to review such decisions”.

Awomolo urged that if the relevant provisions of the constitution are in doubt, then the NBA and relevant Non-Governmental Organizations should seek interpretation of the law.

He added that in the alternative the constitution should be amended so that “recommendation of the NJC shall be submitted directly to the Senate where confirmation of the Senate is required and then forwarded to the President as the appointing authority.

“Indeed, I am of the view that the process for confirmation of appointment should precede the decision of the appointing authority, the President where necessary.

“A culture where everyone appears overwhelm and kept in silence in fear is unacceptable. It is intimidation, suppression and humiliation of the Judiciary as an arm of government.

On conferment of the rank of Senior Advocates on deserving lawyers, Awomolo, who noted that the gradual increment in the number of awardees by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee is commendable, however warned that the gesture should “not be extended to politicians struggling to eat their cake and have it.

“It is not a honourary title but a professional rank that is earned”, he said.

Similarly, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in its own address presented by its National President, Mr Olumide Akpata, decried the continued undermining of the Judiciary by the Executive.

Akpata, specifically accused the executive at the federal level of engaging in selective obedience to court orders, while he berated the executive at the state level of refusal to comply with the constitutional provision that allows fiscal autonomy for the Judiciary.

Akpata, who was represented by former Chairman, Abuja Bar Association, Abuja, Affam Osigwe, warned that the nation’s democracy was endangered where the Executive deliberately incapacitates the Judiciary by starving it of funds and subjecting it to ridicule by ignoring its decisions.

Akpata said: “Achieving full independence for the Judiciary in Nigeria will be difficult, if the Judiciary is not guaranteed full financial autonomy under the Constitution.

“The spectacle of heads of courts literally begging for its overheads and general welfare from the President of the Federation or the Governor of a state, is an ugly one that highlights the seemingly subservience of the Judiciary to the Executive arm of government which it ought to be independent of.

“This situation creates a somewhat master-servant relationship that upends the whole concept of independence of the Judiciary. Sadly, as the situation may look, it is nonetheless the reality of Judiciary-Executive relationship in Nigeria today.”

President of the NICN, Justice Benedict Kanyip, in his remarks commended judges and staff of the court for impressive performance in the last legal year. He noted that 939 decisions, comprising 724 judgments and 215 rulings were handed out by the court’s 32 judges between October 1, 2019 and October 2, 2020.

“For the 4th quarter of 2019, the Judges disposed off 627 cases. For the 1st quarter of 2020, the figure for disposed cases was 619.

“And for the 2nd quarter of 2020 (the period in which the COVID-19 lock down was most severe), the figure dropped to 240. This is understandable. In all, between October 2019 and June 2020, 1,486 cases were disposed of,” he said.

Justice Kanyip said although litigants were reluctant to embrace the various Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms put in place by the court, it would continue to promote them in the new legal year to ensure speedy dispensation of justice.