Nigeria: CJN Pledges Support for Reforms On Appointment of Judicial Officers

10 August 2020

Following the clamour by some state governors that they should be allowed to appoint the state high court judges, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, has said he is in support of reforms reducing his powers to appoint judicial officers in the country.

The arguments of the state governors have been that since the country is governed by democracy and federal constitution and each state should be allowed to single- handedly determine the procedure for state judicial appointments and appointment of its own judges.

By virtue of the provision of Paragraph 21 of Part One of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, the National Judicial Council (NJC) shall have power to recommend to the governors from among the list of persons submitted to it by the State Judicial Service Commission for appointments to the offices of the Chief Judges of the states and Judges of the High Courts of the state ... "

In other words, Judges of the High Courts of the different States of the federation are appointed by the governor of the respective State, on the recommendation of the NJC.

Speaking on Saturday during a webinar tagged, 'Selection and Appointment of judges: Lessons for Nigeria', which was organised by Justice Research Institute (JRI), the CJN said he would give his total support to an amendment that would reduce his powers to appoint judicial officers.

This is because, the CJN is the chairman of the NJC that recommends judges for appointment at both federal and state superior court of records.

"I will accept it 100 percent, because this is something for the nation. It is not something for one individual," the CJN said.

"But where the law has conferred powers on a particular individual, he has to exercise powers; there is nothing you can do".

"But certainly, if this will be amended, I will give 100 percent for the amendment."

Also speaking, vice-president Yemi Osinbajo said the appointment of judges in Nigeria is influenced by the elite.

"The Nigerian elite want to be sure of all the outcomes and they want all the outcomes to favour them. That is the same pressure that we have with respect to the federal character," the vice-president said.

LEADERSHIP recalled that the Kaduna state governor, Nasir el-Rufai had asked the NJC to hands-off the duty of participating in the recruitment of judges for the state High Court in the country.

On May 19, 2020, while performing the swearing in of four newly appointed High Court Judges in Kaduna state, Governor el-Rufai, said the state had been seeking for the appointment of the high court judges in the past three years.

According to el-Rufai, "Though, only four were appointed, the state requires about 20 judges to compliment the current ones, who are overworked".

"Each of our High Court in the state has a minimum of 200 cases, which is too much for them to handle and affect the administration of Justice".

"To this end, the State needs more judges as we have the capacity to make their work easier with the provision of housing and vehicles, among other necessary things to make their stay memorable," the governor said.

He, however, said the only bottleneck is the NJC bureaucracy, which unduly delayed appointment of judges.

"In my opinion, the NJC should only select judges for the appellate and federal courts and leave the selection of judges for State high courts to an equivalent council at the State level, either the State Judicial Service Commission (JSC) which now appoints Magistrate or the State Judicial Council (SJC) which select judges".

Cross Rivers State.

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