The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, on Thursday in Abuja, faulted the process of appointing justices to the Supreme Court, saying that the policy does not follow merit.
The senior lawyers urged the National Judicial Council, the body in charge of appointing judicial officers in the country, to abandon the current replacement policy for the Nigerian judiciary to grow alongside the rule of law and the administration of justice.
In a speech delivered by Chief Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN), at a valedictory court session for retired Justice Abdu Aboki of the Supreme Court, the senior lawyers asked the NJC to also jettison the system whereby justices of the Supreme Court must be promoted from the Court of Appeal.
In the speech, the body argued that the system is responsible for the level of mediocrity and incompetence in the judiciary.
“The Body of Senior Advocates takes the firm view that the selection and appointment of justices for appointment to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal based on replacement is one that cannot result in the appointment of the best lawyers to the appellate courts in the country,” Okpoko said.
Okpoko stressed that the agitation of the body in this respect would not go away any time soon.
He said, “Our submission to the appointing authorities is that the policy of replacing the retiring justices from their place of origin is not sound and should be discarded.
“The National Judicial Council, as the appointing authority, should address this issue and appoint the best candidates of our country to man our courts. After all, justice is blind and does not look at or see the faces of litigants.
“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 ironclad case of restricting the appointment of our Justices in the manner complained of.”
The body also urged the NJC to broaden the appointment to include members of the bar and academia, as there are qualified individuals in those fields.
While stressing that the constitutional way of becoming a Justice of the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court was by way of appointment and not promotion, Okpoko listed former justices of the apex court who did exceptionally well but were not initially judges.
“I met Justice Ephraim Akpata as a Chief Magistrate in Warri and had the fortune of appearing for the accused person in the last case Justice Akpata conducted as a Magistrate. You and I know that Justice Akpata made it to the Appeal Court, from which he honourably retired. The issue of the correct appointment of judges is crucial,” BoSAN emphasised.
Meanwhile, in his remarks, Justice Aboki, now retired, thanked God and all those who made his sojourn in the judiciary worthwhile.
While he called on the executive arm of government to urgently review the remuneration of judicial officers, Aboki told the National Assembly to enact laws that would reduce the number of cases that get to the apex court.
Justice Aboki also suggested to the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee to review the requirements for the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, explaining that the requirements are responsible for many frivolous, vexatious, and needless appeals filed by lawyers desirous of the prestigious rank.