Why do retired justices, judges become advocates of judicial reform after retirement?

By: Unini Chioma
In recent times, the Nigerian judiciary has been in the eye of the storm of public criticism and depleting confidence from members of the society.

A lot of persons from all walks of life have at different times contributed to discourse on the imperativeness of sweeping judicial reforms starting from the process recruitment to renumeration of members of the bench as well as transparency and fairness in determining causes brought before the courts for adjudication.

The strive for total and complete judicial autonomy still remains in the pipelines even as we confronted with pictures and videos of decayed court infrastructure across the country.

To worsen the reputation of the judiciary, some decisions even from the highest court in the land in recent years has given cause to worry as has further damaged the image of Nigerian courts.

In the midst of all these, it is very rare to see Justices or Judges lend their voices to advocacy for judicial reforms.

Oftentimes, they present a posture that shows perfection and satisfaction with the state of affairs, no matter how ugly it seems.

Experience has shown that it is only upon retirement that most Justices finally find their voice and this had left many wondering the essence of turning advocate only after leaving the system.

The recent valedictory remarks by Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammad is the most recent example of this debacle.

In his speech presented on the 27th of October, 2023 and made available to TheNigeriaLawyer, Retired Justice Dattijo pulled no punches as we hit the nail on the head with respect to the issues affecting the Nigerian judiciary.

He spoke on a long range of issues spanning the overconcentration of powers on the CJN, the depleting number of Supreme Court Justices and lack of representation for many geopolitical zones, as well as the recruitment process of Judges.

On the CJN powers, he said, “As presently structured the CJN is Chairman of the National Judicial Council NJC which oversees both the appointment and discipline of judges, he is equally Chair of the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FISC), the National Judicial Institute (NJI) the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) that appoints Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

In my considered opinion the oversight functions of these bodies should not rest on an individual alone. A person with absolute powers, it is said, corrupts easily and absolutely.

As Chair of NIC, FISC, NII and LPPC, appointments as council, board and committee members are at his pleasure.

He neither confers with fellow justices nor seeks their counsel or input on any matter related to these bodies. He has both the final and the
only say.

By the provision of Paragraph 20 of Part One of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, the NJC shall comprise the following Members: the Chief Justice of Nigeria, who shall be the Chairman; the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court who shall be the Deputy Chairman. Regrettably, the next most senior justice of the Supreme Court like Deputy Governors of State, shorn of any official function except at the pleasure of the Governor, is neither consulted on anything nor does he have any official function.

His job as No. 2 is purely as the CJN pleases. it is incumbent that the system provides for more inclusion and consultation among the stakeholders.

The conversation about the diminishing number of justices at the Supreme Court has become a refrain.

As I bow out today, the number is further reduced to 10 against the Constitutional requirement 21 Justices.”

Justice Dattijo also lamented the depleting number of Justices, he said, “When I exit today, the North Central zone that I represent ceases to have any representation until such a time new appointments are made.

My lord Hon. Justice Ejembi Eko JSC who also represented the zone retired on the 23″ of May, 2022.

It has been a year and five months now. There has not been any replacement. With the passing of my lord, Hon Justice Chima Centus Nweze, JSC on 29th July 2023, the South East no longer has any presence at the Supreme Court.

My lord, Hon. Justice Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta JSC died on 7th* March 2021. There has not been any appointment in his stead for the South East To ensure justice and transparency in presidential appeals from the lower court, all geo-political zones are required to participate in the hearing.

It is therefore dangerous for democracy and equity for two entire regions to be left out in the decisions that will affect the generality of Nigerians.”

While these observations by Justice Dattijo are true, correct and accurate, it is curious why he is just getting to note those points post-retirement.

Can these recommendations not be made and implemented during active service at the bench?

Are their systemic barriers to the suggestion and expression of these concerns as an active member of the bench?

We are at this moment unable to discern the answers to these questions.

However, we can draw a pivotal lesson especially for current members of the bench and public office holders in general.

That is, whatever you believe will improve the efficiency of the bench (or whatever sector serve in) should be said and implemented when you will have the influence of your office.

It is not uncommon to see former public office holders become government critics after leaving office.

They begin to make recommendations on how to make things better, recommendations that were never brought to the fore during their stint in office.

Many people wonder why justices and judges don’t express their opinions from the bench or utilize the law and constitution to strengthen the institution, instead of voicing their views post-retirement.

However, numerous Nigerian lawyers have responded, stating that justices and judges are not supposed to speak from the bench; that role falls to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), which is the designated institution to represent them.

Some lawyers have accused the NBA of taking a political stance, alleging that Yakubu Maikyau, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, isn’t fulfilling his expected duties.

Instead, they assert that he appears more interested in aligning with the current government for personal gain and benefits from government institutions.

They also contend that he has failed to resolve the internal crises within his leadership and mention state NBA branches that appear disorganized.

Also, when you have a seemingly ineffective Attorney General of the Federation, what do you expect?”

As for the Nigerian judiciary, it is important for the key stakeholders, including members of the Supreme Court bench to show strong leadership and willpower to transform the deteriorating perception of the judiciary in public space.

The concerns raised by Rtd Justice Dattijo are germane and must be swiftly addressed as a starting point in the process of restoring confidence in the judiciary.



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