Transparency and merit should be central to the appointment of judges
From the custom to the Supreme Court, the appointment of judges is now fraught with controversy and allegations of inappropriateness. Last October, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo joined the list of reform advocates at a webinar on “Selection and Appointment of Judges: Teaching for Nigeria” organized by the Justice Research Institute (JRI). “If we leave it to the system that is running, we are clearly going in the wrong direction because interest, whether private, political, or group, affects the way judges are appointed,” he said. “We have to agree on an objective process to carefully examine, test and question everyone who wants to register as a judge.”
Talks are cheap, of course, as we are unaware of the administration’s efforts to initiate such reforms. Meanwhile, the current issue dates back to October 23, 2019, when the National Judicial Council (NJC) recommended Judges Helen Ogunwumiju, Adamu Jauro, Chukwudumebi Oseji and Emmanuel Agim for appointment as Supreme Court Justice. Without an official statement, President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to complete the appointment process. The president has not rejected or confirmed the appointment for 301 days. The story floating around is that the delay is based on some ethno-religious calculations.
Whatever the situation, the problem did not start with the current administration. Appointments of judges had been politicized long before the public took notice. The victims of this policy were not brave enough to speak out. They feared that if they did so, they would be punished. Today, many use unconventional means to speak of bar associations, socio-cultural groups, and social media. Some of the revelations are shocking. It shows that ethnic and religious considerations, as well as political affiliations and family ties, are now used to determine eligibility for appointment to the bank. Not only is this sad, it is also a bad sign of the rule of law in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, nobody talks about the most important factor in judicial appointments that should normally be deserved. The bigger tragedy is that the current leadership of the judiciary is backward looking and does not have the courage to institutionalize the reforms necessary to free the judiciary from the nefarious level to which it has descended. This may be because those in senior positions are benefiting from the same skewed appointment process themselves and cannot afford to rock the boat.
The expectation that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammed, who also serves as chairman of the NJC (legally responsible for appointing, promoting and disciplining judges), will initiate the necessary reforms seems wrong. He seems uninterested, even if there are reports to initiate reform. A conference jointly organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in collaboration with the Nigerian Bar Association Access to Justice and the NJC had already dealt with the subject.
For more than two decades, particularly since the current democratic jurisprudence in 1999, critical actors in the judiciary have called for transparency and merit in the appointment of judges. The final effort was made under the only female CJN, Judge Mariam Aloma-Mukhtar. It is worth reminding the judiciary of the opening speech by UNODC country representative Mariam Sissoko at this meeting: “The public’s trust in a free, fair and impartial judiciary is strengthened when the public is informed about the process after the Judges are active. ” are selected. Confidence will be further strengthened when the public is reassured that the manner in which the judiciary dispenses justice is monitored, ”she said.
The time to act is now.