The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; and the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase; and members of the chamber, on Wednesday, faulted a bill seeking to make lawyers under the umbrella of the Nigerian Bar Association approve the appointment of judges.
The criticism forced the sponsor, Anthony Afe, to withdraw the Constitution amendment bill at the second reading.
The legislation is titled ‘A Bill for an Act to Alter Provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended) to Create Additional Criteria for the Appointment of Judges and for Other Related Matters, 2020.’
Leading the debate on the bill, Afe said, “This is a bill seeking to further alter the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as it relates to the mode and criteria for appointing high court judges to ensure that cerebral lawyers who are not privileged in society have opportunity to rise to the judiciary to deepen our jurisprudence that once caught the attention of global legal minds.
“A saying which captures very graphically the danger in the present mode of appointment of high court judges is the statement that an incompetent judge is more dangerous to a society than a corrupt judge. The veracity of the above statement lies in the fact that corruption when established against a judicial officer attracts stiff penalties unlike incompetence that does not have a remedy.
“Having regard to the above and the importance attached to the judicial process, it is imperial that the process of appointment of judges that will herald competent legal minds into the judiciary should be the concern of the legislature, to restore the waning confidence of Nigerians in the judicial process, thus an introduction of a new Subsection 6 of Section 273 that reads, ‘A person shall not be qualified to be appointed Judge if he does not secure the endorsement of 2/3 members of the local branch of the Nigerian Bar Association where he registered.’”
The sponsor added, “It is high time we went back to the old standards premised on quality, competence and integrity which once defined our judicial system.
“Thus, the provisions in this bill are some innovations to tackle the mode of appointment of judges to make it more participatory for members of the legal profession as one of the lines of action to prevent incompetent and corrupt persons from getting into the bench.
“The jurisprudential values of judicial pronouncements have continued to take a downward slide. This is an existential challenge which the Legislature must not hesitate to tackle. Cronyism which is responsible for the rot in the judiciary will ease out with the proposed amendment.”
The Deputy Majority Whip, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, however, faulted the proposal as likely to expose judges to politics, citing Section 271 of the Constitution.
She said, “My brother is trying to add an amendment to say that the appointment of a judge of a Federal High Court shall have an additional requirement. I beg to differ here. We are trying to make sure that there is no corrupt judge anywhere but you are subjecting them to two-thirds votes of the NBA. What are you trying to say? You are trying to expose them to people who now determine the appointment of judges.”
Also, Iduma Igariwey also criticised the bill, stating that the appointment of judges is an executive function.
Gbajabiamila, while noting that the bill only seeks to create another layer in the appointment of judges, pointed out that the NBA would be influential in the appointments. “They are going to lobby those before whom they are going to appear, so there is compromise already,” he said.
Wase also said, “I want to beg the mover of this bill to kindly step it down for the obvious reasons that have been mentioned. We are not yet there. By the time you allow this bill to pass, and then you allow our judges to go and lobby the lawyers who will appear before them, and then determine who is going to be a judge, then you are already a compromised person.
Afe, consequently, asked that the bill be stepped down.
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