Why FG needs to Approve New Judges, Justices of Appellate Court

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Walter Onnoghen and Muhammadu Buhari
Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen and President Muhammadu Buhari
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Why FG needs to Approve New Judges, Justices of Appellate Court

The saying that justice delayed is justice denied is a well known and accepted fact in Nigeria’s judiciary. This is most evident going by the number of years cases last in our courts.

Walter Onnoghen and Muhammadu Buhari
Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen and President Muhammadu Buhari

There are many reasons for the delay in obtaining justice in our criminal justice system, particularly from the judiciary angle and many of these issues have been raised and properly captured, while recommendations had been made on how they should be addressed by different stakeholders’ summits and conferences held at both state and federal levels.

While this piece may not go into details on all sectors involved in justice administration, it is noteworthy that justice delivery in most cases is slower. It will not be out of place to note that sectors involved in the country’s justice sector include the police, prisons, the judiciary and a host of others.

While the challenges facing the police and prisons in performing their roles in the quest for achievement of an efficient and effective justice administration cannot be over-emphasized, the judiciary has stood out as a sector, which if its challenges are resolved properly will go a long way in positively influencing the others.

While it must be appreciated that much efforts have been made to get the judiciary right, it appears that the challenges are overwhelming that all interventions over the years seem to be a drop in the ocean. The thrust of the challenge with the judiciary is congestion, among others which spill to the prisons by way of cases dragging for years, particularly criminal ones.

It is a known fact that Nigeria’s prisons post an alarming statistics of housing at present more that 80% awaiting trial inmates.

While the issues of police investigations and attitude to investigations are at the core, the sheer number of cases before individual judges tends to compound the problem.

In most states, judges in the state high courts handle a minimum of10 cases daily and these include hearings, judgments and rulings.

In Abia State for instance, a state high court judge handles on a daily basis, about 10 cases and sometimes higher or lower.

In Edo and Rivers states the case is about the same but Lagos State and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja have higher number of cases per judge, mostly in the range of 15.

Federal High Court judges appear to be much more under pressure as a judge hears about 20 cases daily, mostly in Lagos and Abuja, despite the number of courts in the two divisions.

At the Federal High Court, Lagos Division, a judge has an average of 20 cases on the cause list on daily basis while in Abuja Division of the court, it’s about the same thing.

The Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court are worse off with the number of cases on their cause lists. For example, at the Court of Appeal, Lagos, cases are sometimes not heard because of lack of quorum. The Court of Appeal needs a panel of three Justices to hear a case and when they can’t get three Justices, the court will not sit.

At heart of the delay is fewer number of judges across all the courts to adjudicate cases, which calls for more judges to be appointed. Though the issue is being addressed, but most often, it seems that the government is not doing much in this regard due to delay in approving the appointment of judges screened and forwarded to the executive arm of government as judges of federal courts, namely the Federal High Court, the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Vanguard Law and Human Rights gathered that the National Judicial Council, NJC, acting on the recommendation of the head of the Federal High Court, had submitted a list of 10 names to be confirmed as judges but nine out of the lawyers were screened and approved by the NJC at its March 2018 meeting. It was also gathered that a replacement for one of the names dropped said to be from Lagos, was at another NJC meeting approved and perhaps awaiting swearing in.

This is despite the fact that the nine lawyers who were earlier screened and forwarded to the presidency for approval are yet to be approved and sworn in to help decongest the workload on the cause list, particularly at the federal high courts. The NJC in the same recommendations had cleared 10 lawyers for appointment as judges for the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, while 13 judges from different state high courts and the Federal High Court were recommended for elevation as Justices of the Court of Appeal.

Even though the NJC, recently announced in furtherance of its efforts, lawyers it screened, the executive arm of government (the Presidency) which is the final approving authority for federal judges, judges of the High Court of FTC and justices of the appellate court is yet to give approval for the judges as provided in section 238 of the 1999 constitution as amended, which provides” (2) that the appointment of a person to the office of a Justice of the Court of Appeal shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council.

(3) A person shall not be qualified to hold the office of a Justice of the Court of Appeal unless he is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period of not less than twelve years.”

And 256. (1) states ” The appointment of a person to the office of Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.

(2) The appointment of a person to the office of a Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja shall be made by the president on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council.”

Also, the case of the Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdu Kafarati is more worrisome, as he has been in acting capacity for over nine months, despite the fact that he had faced three separate screenings by the NJC, which afterwards forwarded his name to the executive for confirmation, which requires sending his name to the National Assembly, as provided in Section 250 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) on the appointment of a Chief Judge of a Federal High Court, which states “ (1) The appointment of a person to the office of Chief Judge of the Federal High Court shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.

(3) A person shall not be qualified to hold the office of Chief Judge of the Federal High Court unless he is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period of not less than 10 years.”

A source in the executive, who responded to enquiries on the delay in approving the list of lawyers screened for appointment as judges of the Federal High Court, FCT High Court, the judges nominated for elevation to the Appeal Court bench and the delay in sending Justice Karfarati’s name to the Senate for confirmation, said background investigations and screenings were being carried out on the list.

While it is a known fact that there are many other challenges confronting judges in the performance of their duties, such as the obsolete recording system, where judges write in long hand, the argument by lawyers, some of which last for hours, poor court rooms which most times are too small and stuffy among others, the quick approval by the Federal Government of the new judges and elevation of judges to the bench of the appellate court will guarantee speedy hearing on cases with more hands to sit over cases as against the fewer we have at present.

While all eyes are often on the judiciary to perform, the other arms of government must also learn to perform and on time on issues concerning the judiciary. In the same manner, the confirmation of the Federal High Court Chief Judge, after his name must have been sent to the Senate, will go a long way in reassuring and giving the head of the court, an assurance and confidence to perform the enormous duties of administering the court nationwide.

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