The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN), on Thursday challenged the National Judicial Council and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) over the selection of justices for the Supreme Court and the Appellate Court.
Onomigbo Okpoko, the chairman of BOSAN, criticized the procedure for choosing and appointing justices to the supreme court and appellate courts.
Okpoko spoke on behalf of Prof. Ben Nwabueze, at the valedictory court session held in honour of Justice Abdul Aboki, who retired recently from the Supreme Court.
“The Body has said it times without number and in various fora that the method of selection of the candidates for appointment of Justices in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal is unsatisfactory in the extreme.
“The appointment process appears to have been designed and operated to exclude good and component lawyers in the legal profession from being appointed appellate courts Justices” BOSAN stated.
BOSAN described the selection process as a “restrictive policy by the appointing authorities”.
The Body of SANs submitted that “the appointing authority appears to have established a policy that the vacancies created by the exit of Justices of Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal are to be filled by picking a candidate from the State of the vacating Justice only notwithstanding the availability of known better candidates readily at hand from other states or Local Government Areas in case of Judges at trial Courts.
“The consequence of this policy is that by it, our nation, our citizens, foreign and local businessmen/women who use and or are expected to resort to the courts of law for the resolution of their problems in Nigeria are denied the opportunity of having their cases considered and decided by Appellate Courts manned by the best legal minds, the nation can produce at any time”.
“This is a very sad reflection on our nation and the nation’s judiciary,” Chief Okpoko said.
Similarly, the Body of SANs faulted the policy of geographical spread in public service appointments, stressing that it is “acknowledged today, to be the foundation for the mediocrity and incompetence in some areas of the public service of our nation”.
“The risk and dangers of mediocrity and incompetence in the Nigerian judiciary are too grave to permit by the policy of replacement or exclusion.
“The theory of replacement cannot bring about the best that is in us in the legal profession” BOSAN posited.
The group recalled that at Independence, many English and Commonwealth Judges left the Country, and their replacements were picked from among the best lawyers and Judges of the time, irrespective of the state of origin, and “Heaven did not fall”.
In view of the foregoing, the Body queried the justification for excluding good, competent and available candidates from the Bar and operate the policy of replacement to be the basis for the selection and appointment of candidates to man Appellate Courts.
“The BOSAN takes the firm view that the selection and appointment of Justices for appointment to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal on the basis of replacement is one that cannot result in the appointment of the best Lawyers into the appellate Courts in the country.
“The present number of Justices in the Supreme court bench is 21. Obviously, every state and or local government cannot have a Justice of the Supreme from every state.
“Why then can we not walk across the state of origin of barrier and appoint for the highest court of the land, the best material available to the profession and to our nation?
“Justice knows no tribe and has no colour or religion. It has no specified location because it is everywhere.
“Let no one put on the Nigerian Judiciary, the iron-clad case of restricting the appointment of our Justices in the manner complained of” BOASN stated.
“Our advocacy in this direction is not a selfish one. The National Judicial Council knows that there are sound, honest and hardworking Lawyers in the Ministries of Justice, in academia and at the private Bar.
“BOSAN does not see any justifiable and arguable opposition against the direct appointment of this class of candidates available for appointment in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.
“Today, the National Judicial Council ignores these sources of recruitment and prefers to appoint candidates on the basis that they have served as Magistrates and Sharia Courts and Customary Courts Judges as a condition for appointment into the Appellate Courts.
“When the shortlisted list of candidates was released, regrettably the appointing authority did not shortlist even one Lawyer outside the Judiciary as an appointable candidate. This is very sad, to say the least”.