The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele has faulted the process of appointing judges in the country, warning that the appointment of judges should not be subject to discretionary practices.
Bamidele, also Chairman of the Southern Senators Forum, also lamented that failure of most state governments to grant judicial autonomy to the judicial arm of government was not in conformity with the provision of the 1999 Constitution.
He made these remarks on Friday during an interview with THISDAY in Abuja, warning that the appointment of judges all over the world “is never meant to be an arbitrary exercise.”
There has been concern in the recent times about the growing trend of favouritism and nepotism in the appointment of judges at both federal and state levels, especially with the botched appointment of 33 judges in the FCT High Court..
Concerned about the trend, legal practitioners had petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC) and Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, demanding that due process be observed to ensure sanity and stability in the judiciary.
Amid this public disapproval, Bamidele acknowledged that there were growing concerns about deviation from the procedures and standards of appointing members of the Bench.
He said a lot of Nigerians, even in the legal profession, had become really concerned in the recent times as to what they perceived as a deviation from the normal standard.
He said the trend called for concern on the ground that the appointment of judges globally “is not meant to be an arbitrary exercise. It is not something that should be subject to discretionary practices.
“There must be standard. Nigeria is not an exception. There are procedures for the appointment of judges. The procedures set the minimum requirements that anyone, who desires the office of judge, must attain.
“Also, there is a standard as to the mode of appointment. Part of our own concerns is to continue to ensure that there is no deviation from this standard,” Bamidele pointed out during the session.
As the representatives of the people saddled with the responsibility of supervising the judiciary, Bamidele said the senate would not shy away from its role to ensure that there is sanity in the process.
He, also, emphasised the need for stability in the judiciary by making the procedures predictable, noting that if it “ceases to be predictable, it subjects to an arbitrary exercise of discretion. I think that will not service the purpose of justices in this country.
“Even when we receive petitions with respect to the appointment of judges, we always take up those petitions with both the Bar and Bench. Sometimes, we found the petitions and issues were unfounded. Each time we found substance in the petitions, we insist on the right things being done.”
Bamidele cited the case of anomalies that characterised the appointment of 33 judges by the FCT High Court under the auspice of the NJC, noting that his committee insisted on due process.
According to him, we did all we could as a committee to ensure that the leadership of the Bar and Bench look into these petitions. That is part of what caused delay in finalising the appointment.
At some points, he said: “Only 11 out of the 33 were given clearance in 2020. It is a growing concern that we cannot run away from. We will continue to do our best to ensure that Nigerians do not lose hope in the judiciary, for any reason including the manner and mode of appointment of our judges.”
Bamidele, also, lamented failure of the state government to ensure autonomy of the judiciary, which according to him, was provided for in the 1999 Constitution.
He said it was stipulated in constitution that any money standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue of the country shall be transferred directly to the NJC.
He also said similar provision was made for the judiciary at the state level that any money “standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue of a state shall be transferred directly to the judiciary.
“The federal government is religiously implementing it. while that is going on at the national level, that is not the situation in most states of the federation.
“However, most states are already implementing it. But most of the states are not implementing it. That is what led to the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) to embark on a strike that lasted three months early this year.
“We are making appeal to the authorities in the states to ensure that they implement it to the latter,” Bamidele explained concerns about the approach of the state government to judicial autonomy.
He, therefore, commended President Muhammadu Buhari for increasing allocations to the judiciary from N95 billion in 2020 to N120 billion in 2020, though claimed that budget of the judiciary was enough for a whole arm of government.
Obviously, Bamidele said: “President Buhari is listening to the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians in this regard. That is why in the 2022 budget proposal, an additional sum of N10 billion was provided. This is the second time the administration is increasing the budget of the judiciary in two years.
“In 2020, the budget of the judiciary was N95 billion. But the Buhari administration increased to N110 billion in 2021. Again, in 2022, it has been moved to N120 billion. It is a welcome development. But it is not yet Uhuru.
“If we are talking about the independence of the judiciary, that is an aspect that a lot needs to be done to ensure that there is full implementation and constitutional provisions to guarantee it through fiscal independence.
“Fiscal independence is making sure that allocation goes directly to the judiciary so that the CJN will not carry its files to get approval from the president. In the same, a CJ will not carry its files to go and wait in the anteroom to get an approval. That is the concept of judicial independence.”