The Chief Judge of Enugu State and former member of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Justice Innocent Umezulike, has said the power of the state governor to appoint a chief judge is sacrosanct.
Justice Umezulike, who became the head of Enugu State judiciary in 2004, made the submission in his contribution to a book: “The Judicial Integrity, Independence and Reforms: Essays in Honour of Justice Mohammed Uwais.
The book published in 2006 has 26 chapters. In his contribution in Chapter Three: “Appointment of A Chief Judge of A State in Nigeria: My Experience and Ascent of Pragmatism and Constitutionalism,” Umezulike contended that the position of the NJC to “send only the name of the most senior judge in the list and insist that such judge must be appointed by the governor is an unwarranted obligation which NJC may have imposed on itself. It is neither supported by any law nor by the provisions of the constitution.
“By requiring the governor to appoint the chief judge of the state subject to the confirmation of the House of Assembly, the constitution obviously treats the entire process as political. And we cannot objectify a process in which the constitution clearly treat as political. It results therefore that the disposition of the governor on the matter must prevail,” he submitted.
Citing the scenario that happened before he became the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Umezulike noted that “the rule of seniority usually exploited by the JSC and NJC in the appointing process must be abandoned. In any case, the resort to seniority as the only objective basis for the selection of a chief judge is a lazy approach. The rule of seniority as the only criterion is contrary to political and constitutional trend and should not be further pursued. In any case, it will be paralogical to state that one judge in a state is senior to another. Aside from the chief judge, all the judges in the state earn the same salary not withstanding their years on the bench.”
Justice Umezulike who in February this year presented another book: “ABC of Contemporary Land Law in Nigeria” to the public, made seven cogent recommendations among which “the argument when reduced to its last analysis comes to the fact that the appointment of a chief judge is a political process and the role of the governor is paramount and prevailing.”
He concluded by saying that “the matter under evaluation may not be exhausted by any single perspective. Plural perspective may be needed. We leave that rejoinders and exponents of other views. We are also typically aware that on lively legal discussion, contrary opinions must sporadically show their heads. But we insist the views advanced above are valid, useful, practical, cogent and preferable.