Lawyers yesterday in Abuja called on the National Judicial Council (NJC) to stop appointing judges based on family and political ties just as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mukhtar, said the council has reviewed the guidelines for appointing judges.
The CJN and the president of the Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA), Chief Okey Wali (SAN), who made the position of lawyers known on the issue of judges appointment spoke yesterday at the opening ceremony of a judicial reforms conference with the theme “putting our best foot forward: the Judiciary and the Challenges of Satisfying Justice Needs of the 21st Century”.
The conference was jointly organised by the NBA, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the European Union (EU), Access to Justice (AJ) and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).
Wali said: ”In any clime, judges should ordinarily be appointed from the best the Bar can offer. Judges should be appointed from lawyers who have had extensive practice before the courts in Nigeria. But this is not the case in Nigeria.
“Persons who have had little or no serious practice of law have often been appointed judges. Appointments are not always made on merit but on extrinsic factors, such as family and political ties or affiliation. As a result of this, the judiciary and ultimately the judicial service system have been the worse for it.”
In her welcome address, the CJN said that NJC would soon make public the guidelines for the appointment of judges.
The assessment, according to the CJN, would be conducted by the NJC even though it was going to be a tideous exercise.
She said the present NJC had been doing its best to ensure that only good judges were appointed.
She noted that corruption had become a cankerworm which had refused to depart, adding that the NJC was trying to ensure the eradication of corrupt practices from the bench.
She said: “We receive petitions and hear from both sides. Those affected would say they were not given fair hearing but they come with lawyers as much as six Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN).
“The SANs are equally guilty because they would not see the accusation and still defend them (judges) which shows they are moving in tandem,” the CJN said.
The NBA president, Wali, said nobody should be appointed judicial officer without input from the Bar.
He noted that the NJC had a lot of role to play in the appointment and discipline of judges.
According to him, lawyers in private practice should be appointed not only as judges but also as judges in the appellate courts.
He noted that, “Any society where justice is in short or limited supply, will inevitably witness strife, anarchy, fear, discord, social and economic disharmony.
“It seems Nigeria is gravitating slowly towards such society, if there are no urgent reforms in our justice system.”
According to him, the impunity, the apparent lack of law and order, lack of accountability, endemic corruption, are all part of the acknowledgement of the weakness, or indeed, failure of the justice system.
The Executive Director, Acess to Justice, Joseph Otteh, said the challenges of delivering justice in the 21st century were huge and daunting, adding that there was increasing public distrust for the judiciary as well as disconnect from and disenchantment with the quality of services offered by the judiciary in many countries.
Those present at the conference included the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, Justice Mary Peter Odili, the Chief Justice of South Africa as well as several other Chief Judges from Edo, Ondo, Yobe and the FCT High Court.