JUDICIARY Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) and some Lawyers have kicked against the establishment of the State Judicial Council, a bill currently before the House of Representatives which has passed second reading.
The State Judiciary bill is sponsored by Hon. Abbas Tajudeen representing Zaria Federal Constituency of Kaduna State.
The long title says it’s “A Bill for an Act to Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) to Provide the Legal Framework for the Financial and Administrative Independence of State Judiciary, to Establish State Judicial Council which shall be responsible for the Appointment, Promotion and Discipline of Judicial Officers in State Courts and Judicial Bodies and disburse Money standing to the Credit of the State Judiciary or Money Appropriated to the State Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State; and for Related Matters (HB. 1062)”.
The Bill seeks to alter the provision of Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution and have the State Judicial Council to replace NJC as the recipient of funds standing to credit of state judiciary from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Also, the Bill provides for 11 members of the State Judicial Council which include Chief Judge as the Chairman, next most senior Judge who shall be the Deputy Chairman, the President of the Customary Court of Appeal (if any), Grand Khadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the state (if any) and two retired Judges of the State Judiciary to be selected by the Chief Judge.
However, in a letter of protest written by P. Nnamani, JUSUN Deputy National Secretary addressed to the House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, appeals to him “to halt and refuse the bill as it will do more harm than good to our democracy.”
Besides, he noted that the establishment is an attempt to make State Judiciary “glorified godfather, and removing the supervisory role of the National Judicial Council on State Judiciary.”
Furthermore, JUSUN noted that the establishment of the NJC is a worthwhile and healthy development necessitating “takeover of the appointments, discipline, payment of salaries and assessments of the performance of judicial officers, there was relative peace in the state judiciaries as governors would no more flex muscles on who lies the authority.”
Chief Sebastine Hon., SAN described the Bill as an attempt to emasculate Judiciary at the state level.
“If we allow states to have judicial councils to appoint judges to high courts, Sharia and Customary Courts of Appeal, there will be absolute and total breach of etiquettes because we have seen what is happening in some states such that even when the NJC nominates the most senior person to be Chief Judge, the governors and the House of Assembly who are always acting in cahoots, will frustrate that move.
“In fact, if we do that it will totally emasculate the judiciary at the state level”, he said.
Joseph Otteh, Executive Director of Access to Justice said the Bill “would end up politising the entire judicial process. It is already bad now even with the major roles that the NJC plays. The NJC is hardly able to control many state governments when it comes to appointments.
“In some of these cases, the NJC has been able to put its foot down that we have got to apply the seniority principle, so what then happens when we don’t have the NJC as the layer of oversight? The cost of it is that everybody does what they wish to do.
“The cost of that is that we will lose judicial independence; we will lose the ability to appoint, at least, people with a credible level of integrity. We have had the history of what this bill seeks to achieve before. We have gone the way before and the experience was horrible.”
Meanwhile, he added that it is hoped that it “is not passed because what it will probably do is remove the only available layer of oversight from the appointment process.”
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