To qualify for appointment to the bench of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the fellow must be a legal practitioner of not less than 15 years. The same applies to whoever is to be appointed as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Section 231 subsection (3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended distinctly states: “A person shall not be qualified to hold the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria or of a Justice of the Supreme Court, unless he is qualified to practise as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period of not less than fifteen years.”
The above provision opened up the window for any legal practitioner who has practised for not less than 15 years to be appointed as a Justice of the apex court. And that is exactly what the proponents of the argument for the appointment of members of the Bar straight into the Supreme Court capitalised on, in supporting their position.
Just recently, their crusade got the ears of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen who wrote to the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), requesting that it nominates eligible members of the Bar for consideration into the apex court bench. He also gave them a short notice within which to comply with the notice.
The NBA in response, quickly forwarded names of nine eligible candidates to the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Justice Onnoghen, for appointment as Justices of the Supreme Court.
According to the NBA, the short-listing followed a rigorous selection process done by a committee chaired by the president of the NBA, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), with eight other eminent lawyers as members.
Among the candidates nominated were former President of the NBA, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Anthony Ikemefuna Idigbe (SAN), Yunus Ustas Usman (SAN), Babatunde Fagbohunlu (SAN), Miannaya Aja Essien (SAN), Awa Uma Kalu (SAN), Professor Awalu Hamish Yadudu, Tajudeen Oladoja and Ayuba Giwa.
The above-mentioned applicants were short-listed from a total of 89 expressions of interest that were scrutinised.But this action has already open up the hornets nest. A group of lawyers led by the octogenarian activist, Pa Tunji Gomez have in protest written to the acting CJN, expressing their disapproval of the nominations and asking for its cancellation for not following due process.
In the letter, dated February 15 and addressed to the acting CJN, the lawyer said members of the Lagos NBA present at their meeting held on February 13, ‘overwhelmingly opposed the said nomination of lawyers for appointment as Supreme Court Justices.’
According to him, their grouse is that ‘due process’ was not followed in the nomination. They also complained that the procedure used was arbitrary and contrary to established procedure in appointing judges.
“The members present disapprove of the undue haste with which the nomination and recommendation was done. The period of three days given to interested lawyers to indicate their interest in the Supreme Court posts is to say the least, a farce and an unusual and unwarranted haste which to them, portray a predetermined agenda, because the procedure of appointing a High Court judge takes weeks, with full consultation of judges and the Bar for their input in the exercise. How is it then that the nomination of lawyers to the Supreme Court, the apex court in the land was limited to three days,” he queried.
He also argued that the appointment raised vital fundamentally issues affecting the profession and the judiciary. He asked whether such action would not indirectly declare justices of the appeal court as unfit or unknowledgeable enough to be elevated to the apex court?
“This is an unfair, demeaning and unjustifiable treatment of appeal court justices, some of whom have spent decades in the judiciary from high court to the appeal court only to be told that a lawyer who has not held any judicial post is preferable. This is unfair, disheartening and a slur on the efficiency of the court of appeal,” he stated, adding that it might affect their dedication, morale and commitment as there is no guarantee of their promotion to the Supreme Court since lawyers can be appointed from the Bar.
The Bar leader argued that there have only been two of such appointments since independence and that it happened under the military rule as exceptions. To now make it a rule that lawyers should be appointed straight to the Supreme Court, he said, is dangerous to the profession and the judiciary.
“It will create the wrong impression which is inimical to the interest of the profession that any SAN is better than a High Court judge and more knowledgeable, as a judge of the High Court cannot be automatically appointed to the Supreme Court, whereas a SAN can be so appointed if this nomination is allowed to become the order of the day,” he stressed.
Notwithstanding his position and that of his group, some eminent Nigerian lawyers have continued to praise the nomination, saying such is a welcomed development.
The senior lawyers whose views were sought by The Guardian said the development would improve scholarship, legal reasoning and judgments at the apex court and ultimately Nigerian judiciary, adding that the blend of regular Justices with those from the Bar would enrich adjudication at the apex level.
Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), said there’s nothing wrong in the appointment, adding that in Britain, only those who are Queen’s Counsel (QC), an equivalent of SAN are appointed into the high courts.
“Personally, I do not see anything wrong with appointing a practising lawyer into the Supreme Court of this country; there is nothing wrong with it at all. The practice in England is that only Queens Counsel that are appointed as even judges. It is in this country that members of the lower bench like magistrates and so on become judges.
“The reason a seasoned practising lawyer is a better judge is because he has seen it all. He has interacted with the clients and the courts and he knows the courts than a lawyer who left the law school and is appointment a junior magistrate and rises from that position up to the Supreme Court.
“There is no time that such a fellow has interacted with clients as a litigation lawyer. It is the experience and weight of the submissions of a lawyer that makes a judge to write a beautiful judgment. Therefore, if you appoint sound lawyers into the bench, they will always turn out better judges. I have always advocated that we should copy what they are doing in England. Now that they have listened, it’s all well and good,” he stated.
Constitutional lawyer, Sebastine Hon (SAN) said its a good development. “The constitution has provided the minimum qualification for appointment into the Supreme Court bench. Once anybody attains 15 years in active legal practice, together with other requirements, he qualifies. The new hierarchy of the Supreme Court is trying to comply with the provisions of the constitution.
“The appointments will definitely bring a fine blend between establishment justices and the private practitioners who are coming from outside. It will better the cause of justice in my own estimation,” he said.
Prof. Taiwo Osipitan (SAN) said it is the right step in the right direction. According to him, the judiciary has not had it so in a long while after the exit of late Justice Teslim Elias and Augustine Nnamani who were appointed straight from the Bar. “I believe that if their nomination is confirmed and they are appointed into the Supreme Court bench, they will do wonders like the Elias and Nnamani’s of this world. I welcome it wholeheartedly,” he declared.
Similarly, Ilorin based lawyer, Yusuf Ali (SAN) described it as a welcomed development. “It is always good to inject new ideas and perspectives to issues. We are applauding it because it is good for the judiciary and our country in general. Their presence will enrich the apex court, “ he said, adding that because those nominated are men of upright character, they would recuse themselves whenever there are clash of interests without being told.
Minister Blames Judiciary For Prisons’ Congestion
The Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, has blamed the congestion in Nigeria’s correctional facilities on the country’s Judiciary, explaining that the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCOS) was not allowed by law to reject inmates sentenced to correctional centres or to release them.
Aregbesola, represented by Special Adviser on Nigerian Correctional Service, Suleiman Tala, stated this while delivering a paper at a policy advocacy conference entitled, “Decongestion of Correctional Centres: Status Quo”, organised as part of the 60th-anniversary celebration of the Order of The Knights of St Mulumba, Nigeria, Lagos Metropolitan Council, which was held in Lagos, adding that the primary responsibility of NCOS is to hold offenders pending the adjudication of their cases before a law court.
“It is important for the public to be aware that the NCOS and the Ministry of Interior are trying their best to tackle the issue from different angles as the length of time the inmates stay at the custodian centre is not determined by NCOS but by the justice system. I may not be able to reiterate exactly what the challenges are with the judiciary, however, as it affects the NCOS we are doing all we can not to compromise the traditional responsibility of the NCOS,” he stated.
Representing the Inspector General of Police, Baba Usman, Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, accepted that the police contribute to the congestion but gave his reasons.
“Inconsistence of the appearance of police officers to give evidence at trials has been identified as one of the alleged causes of prolonging trial but the IGP has mandated officers must attend court cases as at when due. The police are being hampered by a high level of distrust between the citizens and their police institution,” he stated.
Also at the conference, Lagos State Catholic Archbishop, Alfred Adewale Martins, who was represented by Rev. Paschal Uwaezeapu, stated that decongestion of the prisons would continue to be a matter as long as the government has refused to fix the country.
“The prison would continue to be congested if we don’t fix the society. As long as our society is a place where everybody takes for himself without considering the neighbour then our prison would continue to be congested. If we need to fix the prison we need to fix the family. These prisoners come from a family. We need to fix the education system also. We need to promote justice, without all these, the prison will soon overflow,” he stated.
Meanwhile, the Lagos Metropolitan Grand Knight, KSM William Adebisi, urged the government to declare a state of emergency on the congestion of prisons.
“The government needs to take the matter seriously as it affects the health of the inmates, economy of the company and behavioural change of the inmates,” he stated.
FG Seeks $3bn With Eurobond Offer
The Federal Government has announced plans for a Eurobond issuance in the International Capital Market (ICM) to raise $3billion.
The Debt Management Office (DMO) said, yesterday, that Virtual meetings with investors have been scheduled for today, and September 20, 2021.
It said, “In order to avail local investors the opportunity to invest in the Eurobonds, meetings will also be held with local investors.
“This is the first time local investors will be included in the Roadshows, and this is one of the reasons why a Nigerian Bookrunner (Chapel Hill Denham Advisory Services Ltd) was appointed as one of the Transaction Advisers.
“Through the Eurobond issuance, Nigeria is expected to raise up to $3billion but no more than $6.2billion.”
According to the DMO, the issuance for which all statutory approvals have been received, would be to implement the New External Borrowing in the 2021 Appropriation Act and that “Proceeds are for the financing of various projects in the Act.”
The agency gave further insight, saying, “In addition to providing funding to part-finance the deficit in the 2021 Appropriation Act, the issuance of Eurobonds by Nigeria benefits the country in many other strategic ways; amongst which are: 1. It is an inflow of foreign exchange, leading to an increase in External Reserves.
“External Reserves help support the Naira Exchange Rate, and Nigeria’s sovereign rating.
“When Nigeria raises funds externally, through Eurobonds, it frees up space in the domestic market for private sector and sub-national borrowers. In effect, it helps the sovereign not to crowd out other borrowers in the domestic market.
“The issuance of Eurobonds by Nigeria has opened up opportunities for Nigeria’s corporate sector notably banks, to issue Eurobonds to raise capital in the ICM.
“By so doing, their capital base has been strengthened to provide banking services whilst also meeting regulatory requirements. Nigeria has a sovereign yield curve in the ICM, extending up to 30 years.
“The local listing of Nigeria’s Eurobonds on the Nigerian Exchange Ltd. and the FMDQ Securities Exchange Ltd., have increased the range of products on these two (2) exchanges and their respective market capitalization.
“Overall, Eurobond issuances by Nigeria and the investor meetings that precede the pricing have provided a strong global platform for Nigeria to tell its own story and opportunities available in Nigeria for investors.”
The Transaction Advisers appointed by Nigeria for the issuance were: International Bookrunners – JP Morgan, Citigroup Global Markets Limited; Joint Lead Managers -Standard Chartered Bank and Goldman Sachs; Nigerian Bookrunner – Chapel Hill Denham Advisory Services Ltd; Financial Adviser – FSDH Merchant Bank Ltd; while White & Case LLP, was appointed International Legal Adviser; and Banwo&Ighodalo would serve as Nigerian Legal Adviser.
The last time Nigeria accessed the ICM was November 2018.
Insecurity: Put Nigeria First, FG Tells Media
The Federal Government has tasked the media to put Nigeria first in the reportage of the country’s activities, particularly the fight against insecurity.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the call in Abuja during the ceremony of the renaming of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Headquarters Building after the former Managing Director and Board Chairman of NAN, late Wada Maida.
Mohammed said it may seem obvious and trite, but for any professional, including a journalist in Nigeria to be able to carry out his or her responsibility at all, the nation must first exist, in peace.
“In other words, if the country goes down, all professionals and everybody go down. It is that stark, and this is why I want to use this platform to appeal to our media to put Nigeria first”, Mohammed said.
Speaking further, the minister said if one picked up most newspapers, watched most television stations or listened to most radio stations in the country, one will be right to think Nigeria is a country at war.
While acknowledging that there were challenges in the country, especially in the area of security, Mohammed, however, said the Buhari administration had not only acknowledged the challenges, it is earnestly tackling the challenges.
“A good example is the decisive manner in which our gallant troops are tackling the banditry in the North-West or the way they are combating the terrorists in the North-East. Our security agencies have also successfully tackled the separatists in the South-East and South-West and the militants in the South-South. Unfortunately, these efforts have only been perfunctorily reflected in the reportage of the security challenges that we face. This is not only unfair, especially to those who are sacrificing their lives to keep us safe, it is unpatriotic.
“To illustrate the damage this non-acknowledgement of the efforts of the security agencies pose to the country, let me tell you what transpired when I recently hosted some members of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) UK Chapter, who visited me in my office here in Abuja. They said some of their colleagues who would have come to Nigeria for their programme tagged,‘A Week in and For Nigeria’ during the month of July, did not come out of fear of the security situation in Nigeria. However, those who made the trip said they travelled to their hometowns across the country and returned to Abuja safely. If Nigerians in the diaspora can be afraid to come to their country, imagine how foreigners, including investors and tourists, will feel about coming to the country.
“Whatever image problem Nigeria is suffering from today is mostly due to the unflattering portrayal of the country by the country’s media.
“Even when some media organisations report fake news, they never have the decency to retract such stories and apologise. They simply move on as if nothing has happened.
“We are not saying the media should not report on the security challenges we face. All we are saying is: Be fair and report accurately the efforts being made by the state and federal governments to tackle the challenges. Even if you don’t want to encourage the men and women in uniform fighting to keep us safe, please don’t discourage them with negative reporting. The security challenges we face today will be successfully tackled and Nigeria will not cease to exist, despite the antics of naysayers”, Mohammed added.
Mohammed congratulated the family, friends and associates of the late Maida for the great and much-deserved honour done to him.
He commended the management and staff of the NAN for coming up with the idea to immortalise the late Maida.
“The Federal Government’s decision to approve the proposal was not difficult, upon realising the role played by Alhaji Wada in making NAN the respectable agency that it is today. A man who was everything from Zonal Editor to Foreign Correspondent to Editor-in-Chief to Managing Director to Board Chairman, a man who built this glistening NAN headquarters edifice deserves to be immortalised by the organisation he served so well in his lifetime”, Mohammed stated.
Mohammed prayed that God will continue to comfort and strengthen the family of Maida, even as he prayed that the soul of the departed continues to rest in peace.
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