THE NIGERIAN MAGISTRATE: LAWYER OR LAYMAN – NJC/JSCs APPOINTMENTS AND THE UNPROFESSIONAL TREATMENT OF MAGISTRATES IN NIGERIA

    By Bayo Akinlade Esq

    We have for long blamed the problems that plague the Judiciary on the appointment process but we have not yet critically considered the committee(s) responsible for these appointments into our nation’s judiciary

    The National Judicial Council (NJC), the Federal Judicial Service Commission, the State Judicial Service Commission are saddled with one responsibility or the other, core of which is the consideration and recommendation of Justices, Judges, and Magistrates.

    These bodies also handle Staffing of the various levels of Court, so if our Judges are not working or living up to standard, then corruption abounds and it becomes obvious that the wrong people were appointed or elevated to the Bench. It goes without saying that the decay within the Judiciary is the FAULT of these appointing bodies.

    My focus yet again is on the lower courts; especially the Magistrate Courts and this is why:

    1. The Magistrate Courts are for everyone

    2. Most Criminal, Contract, Family and many other Cases can be heard at this level of court

    3. The Magistrate Courts have the highest number of cases to handle far more than the higher courts put together

    4. The Court is responsible for more than 80% of detainees in our Correctional Facilities nationwide

    One would think that with such responsibilities placed on these Lower Courts our Magistrates would be treated better, a befitting salary, good conditions of service, standard insurance policies and healthcare etc.

    Unfortunately, the Magistracy in Nigeria is treated with disrespect and disdain by those who recommended their appointments… Our Magistrates are Lawyers, Legal Professionals called to the Nigerian Bar and designated Solicitors and Advocates of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. They are not laymen civil servants to be intimidated. 

    THE CORRUPTION
    How are these appointing bodies  constituted? There is no transparency in the process of appointing a member into the NJC or the JSC  hence the lack of general transparency in the appointment of our colleagues into the Bench. *A look at the current shortlisted candidates into the higher bench by some State Judicial Service Commissions are a reflection of this lack of transparency. States like Lagos, Cross River, Oyo, Osun for instance, should not be seen or heard to be bias*  but should be transparent in the selection and appointment process.

    CAREER ON THE BENCH

    “Elevation” is a common word within the Bench. A Magistrate is a *WHOLE* Lawyer who has powers over his own court to the exclusion of all others.

    A Magistrate hopes to be “Elevated” to the higher Bench until he is able to be appointed to the highest court if he has age on his side. But why is this an issue? It is an issue because the concept of elevation is not provided for in the laws that govern appointments within the Judiciary, it is not automatic hence not relevant but shouldn’t it be?

    Our laws regarding promotion within the Bench are so open ended leaving much to the wimps of the powerful players within the respective bodies who are usually influenced by outsiders

    Why for instance; should a Magistrate write an exam to be selected for appointment into the Higher Bench? Why must a Magistrate be sponsored by a senior Judge or Justice or by a politician or king? Why can’t the independent evaluation of a Magistrate’s work be the sole determining factor for consideration?

    It is time we extinguish our colonial laws and start thinking as free-born Nigerians to determine the trajectory of our Justice delivery sector.

    It is time we give regard to our Magistrates by making them so comfortable they would not even desire “Elevation” to the higher Bench.

    There is a subtle yet consistent resignation from the Magistracy by Magistrates. Experience and expertise currently within our Judiciary is slowly oozing out while incompetency; a result of nepotistic tendencies, is gallantly creeping in.

    As we enter a new dawn with the Government headed by a visionary leader, we should use this opportunity to reawaken our originality and seek for a better nation by reforming our Nation’s Judiciary.

    Bayo Akinlade Esq is the convener of Fight Against Corruption in the judiciary and the Citizens Support for the Lower Courts. He is also the National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Law Society (NLS)

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