Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, yesterday said the era of appointing unfit and improper persons as judges had gone, adding that merit and not fraternity would be the sole yardstick.
He said the National Judicial Council’s newly revised guidelines of appointment of judicial officers now in force provided for “a more comprehensive, robust and transparent method of appointment.”
Justice Mohammed, who spoke at the swearing-in of the new Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Amiru Sanusi, in Abuja, explained that the new guidelines would ensure “the emergence of only the best legal minds with high moral standards to serve as judges in our revered temples of justice.”
Sanusi, who hails from Funtua, Katsina State was until his appointment as a Justice of the Supreme Court, the Presiding Justice of the Enugu Division of the Court of Appeal.
His appointment raises the number of Justices on the apex court from 17 to 18.
After administering the oath of office and oath of allegiance, the CJN congratulated Sanusi for scaling the “colossal hurdles” of the appointment process as prescribed in the new “2014 Revised National Judicial Council Guidelines and Procedural Rules of Appointment of Judicial Officers of all Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria”.
Justice Mohammed described the system of appointment established by the new guidelines as merit-based, adding that appointment of judges would no longer be based on “fraternal connections” and nepotism.
He said: “The newly enacted guidelines bring the judiciary into an era where the eligibility of a candidate for appointment to the Bench will no longer be based on nepotism, familial or fraternal connections.
“The guidelines provide a mechanism which would ensure that only fit and proper persons and the most intellectually astute, morally sound, meritorious and deserving candidates are appointed as judges of our courts. It is the best way to proceed in reforming our judiciary.”
Justice Mohammed also asked litigants and their lawyers to desist from what he described as a worrisome trend, the practice of writing petitions to the NJC against court decisions.
He reminded them that the NJC was not the proper venue for venting dissatisfaction with decisions of courts and expressed the resolve of the judiciary to continue to perform its statutory duties with “the utmost fairness and justness.”
He said, “My lords, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, permit me to digress slightly and use this opportunity to correct an impression that has been formed in the minds of some Nigerians as to the role of the National Judicial Council in our judiciary.
“Some litigants and their counsel no longer avail themselves of appropriate judicial processes, but would rather write petition to the Council.
“A most worrisome trend has begun to emerge where petitions are now written to the NJC against even the decisions of the Supreme Court.” A good example of this ill-advised conduct can be surmised from a recent petition to the NJC by a fairly senior counsel against a decision of a Panel of Justices of the Supreme Court, which heard a pre-election appeal arising from the 2011 Governorship elections.
“The appeal was subsequently dismissed in March 2015 and the dissatisfied appellant and his counsel sought relief with the NJC. I must emphasise that the National Judicial Council is not a venue for venting dissatisfaction with the decisions of the apex courts,” he said.