The recent crisis of confidence in the judiciary has reinforced my age-long conviction on the need to infuse jurists with a different bent in the apex court. This line of thought is shared by lot of my colleagues with enthusiasm and in fact has been the position of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) for a very long time.
Multi-party democracy allows rigorous engagements among different political interests and platforms. The ruling party must give direction which clearly depicts deep appreciation of issues and pristine values espoused by a country in transition.
While the opposition should be encouraged to perform its role of keeping the government on its toes, the ruling party must display courage in taking decisions considered beneficial to the people. I am aware that names of justices have been recommended to the president for appointment into the Supreme Court Bench.
However, there are still vacancies which could and should be filled from the academia and practicing lawyers to afford the country the benefit of a robust interpretation of statutes and seminal inputs into Nigerian jurisprudence, as it was the case in the past, when the Supreme Court prided itself on the quality membership provided by eminent jurists appointed from the academia and practicing lawyers, who had covered all the relevant fields of an evolving legal system.
Let it not be said that, amidst a plenitude of qualified professionals in the country, appointments to the Supreme Court Bench will continue to follow the conventional mode of elevation which sees only serving justices occupy the Supreme Court Bench.
It will be uncharitable to conclude that this proposition suggests incompetence on the part of those serving as judicial officers at present. There are many sound jurists around. But treading this reasoned path should be considered expedient at this crucial moment in the country.
May we then join others to solicit a return to this old but highly beneficial practice of appointment of jurists to the Higher Bench, including the Supreme Court Bench in the country from the academia and practicing lawyers?
Members of our noble profession, Law, should recall, with great pride, the composition of the Bench at all levels, but most especially at the appellate court in those glorious years. This was a period when renowned jurists were appointed right from the classrooms and the courtrooms.
We remember, with affectionate nostalgia, the contributions of these eminent jurists appointed from the galaxy of scholars in the country. The seminal rendition of judicial decisions left indelible imprints on the country’s jurisprudence.
Hon. Justice Taslim Elias was a law teacher and professor at the University of Lagos when he was appointed as Attorney General of the Federation and, from that office, to the Supreme Court. Hon. Justice Niki Tobi was a professor of law at the University of Maiduguri. Hon Justice Nnamani was a trained pharmacist, practicing lawyer and attorney general before his appointment directly to the Supreme Court Bench to mention a few.
The presence of these outstanding scholars at the same period with legal titans and immortals like Chukwudifu Oputa, Kayode Esho, Akinola Aguda, Muhammadu Uwais, Ayo Irikefe, Aniagolu, among others, marked the golden era of the Bench.
Our country cannot afford to, continually, dispense with the services of lawyers with proven industry for strict but unprofitable adherence to conventions, which limit the scope of search for qualified persons to the judiciary itself.
It is high time we jettisoned this obsolescence to chart a new course. Our jurisprudence will be greatly enriched. There will be conviction concerning rationality, even if dissatisfied with the outcome of particular cases. Deliberative governance will be enhanced.
The people will be the beneficiaries. This is the time to take the courageous step. There can be no better time than now to act. There can be no more auspicious moment when providence has availed the country the benefit of exemplary and courageous political leadership.
We cannot continue to lose quintessential and patriotic services of the many while we are content to choose from a few. Or is there anyone who harbours misgivings on the propriety of this proposition on account of time?
If it is not done now, when should we consider it appropriate to take this important decision on behalf of the people? If this is not done by the All Progressives Congress (APC), which other platform parades an array of committed and diligent leaders to prosecute this conviction courageously?
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and the National Judicial Council (NJC) must be advised as a matter of urgent national importance to take a critical look at the recommendation of qualified practitioners from the academia and practice for appointment to the Higher Bench; in particular, the Supreme Court Bench.
Let this choice be subjected to both public and professional scrutiny. It is the most patriotic thing to do at this moment. Another opportunity has come for the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), at branch and national levels, to raise our voice, more loudly and pungently in support of our age long conviction.
It will also not be out of place to invite Nigerians in other professional bodies to join in this crusade. It is long overdue.
Akeredolu, SAN is governor, Ondo state.