Sunday, 25 August 2019

The Nigerian Judiciary

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The Judiciary in Nigeria has recently come under the gun on allegations of corruption and judicial misconduct within the judicial system. These allegations and trials are still on-going as the courts are involved in deciding one way or the other on these allegations. Different opinions and thoughts as to the allegations and the steps that were taken in investigating the allegations have been given. Some people think the process of their investigation and arrest is perfectly normal. Others believe the process was improper. Whatever your view is on this, maybe you don’t even have one: here’s something to learn about judges in Nigeria and what the fuss is about. Let’s consider what there is to know about the judiciary in Nigeria. This will give some clarity as to who judges are, their roles in society, who appoints them, and how this appointment is done. How are judges removed in Nigeria? All of these questions will be determined using the provisions of Nigerian law on same.

The judiciary in Nigeria consists of the courts and judges. You would usually find that when talking about courts in Nigeria, judges are actually being referred to. This is because judges make up the courts. Without the presence of a judge or a magistrate as the case may be in a court, the court is just a building.  A judge presides over court proceedings. Judges are also referred to as judicial officers. The various courts in Nigeria, from the apex to the last in the hierarchy have judges. We have:
  • The Supreme Court
  • The Court of Appeal
  • The Federal High Court
  • The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja
  • High Courts of a State
  • The National Industrial Court
  • The Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja
  • Sharia Court of Appeal of a State
  • The Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja
  • Customary Courts of Appeal of a State
We have the Magistrate Courts as well. Although those who preside over them are not called judges. Rather, they are called Magistrates. Just like the name of the Courts. They basically give decisions like judges in other courts do, but they handle less serious offences than the other courts as mentioned above.

What laws guide the appointment, conduct and discipline of judges in Nigeria?

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), and the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guide the appointment, conduct and discipline of judges in Nigeria. They stipulate all there is to know about the appointment of judges in Nigeria.  Judges are appointed to the various courts in Nigeria based on their qualifications. This basically means the judges that make up our courts differ based on the court being considered. The appointment of judges depends on the courts they are to preside over.
Judges undergo quite some scrutiny in their appointment. This is because they hold such sensitive positions in the society. The judiciary is often referred to as the last hope of the common man. This accounts for the need to maintain its sanctity especially in terms of those that preside over it.
To qualify as a justice of the Supreme Court, one must have qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria for not less than fifteen years; a Court of Appeal justice must have been so qualified for a minimum of twelve years; a minimum of ten years for the judge of a high court; a minimum of ten years for a Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory or a state; a minimum of ten years for judges of the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory and the states (they must also have considerable knowledge and experience in the practice of Customary law).
 
Appointment of Judges in Nigeria
There are different authorities that are in charge of selection and appointment of judges in Nigeria.

The Federal Judicial Service Commission advises the National Judicial Council on nomination of people for their appointment as: the Chief Justice of Nigeria, a Justice of the Supreme Court, a President of the Court of Appeal, a Justice of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Judge of the Federal High court, a Judge of the Federal High Court, the President and Judges of the National Industrial Court, the chairman and members of the Code of Conduct Tribunal as well.

For the Federal Capital Territory, the Judicial Service Committee of the Federal Capital Territory recommends to the National Judicial Council appropriate people for nomination as: the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, a Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, the Grand Kadi and a Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, the President and a Judge of the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory.

The State Judicial Service Commission advises the National Judicial Council on suitable persons for nomination to the office of the Chief Judge of the state, the Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the state, the President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the state, Judges of the High Court of the state, Kadis of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the state and Judges of the Customary Court of Appeal of the state.

After the nomination by the Federal Judicial Service Commission, the Judicial Service Committee of the Federal Capital Territory and the State Judicial Service Commission respectively, the National Judicial Council then recommends to the President of Nigeria, from the list of people suggested/advised by the Federal Judicial Service Commission and the Judicial Service Committee of the Federal Capital Territory. It also recommends to the Governor of each state from the list suggested/advised by the State Judicial Service Commissions. It is the President and the Governors of each state that conduct the final appointment of judges.

Finally, please note that the President of Nigeria appoints the Justices of the Supreme Court as well as the Chief Justice of Nigeria. This he does on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council and it is subject to confirmation by the Senate.
 
Removal of judicial officers in Nigeria

This is the part that caused great controversy as to who has the power to remove judges and how this power may be exercised. Where a judicial officer has been found guilty of any misconduct in the discharge of his functions, some form of disciplinary action may be taken on him. He may be removed from office or suspended. The gravity of the judicial officer’s misconduct dictates the disciplinary action that will be taken against him. Although the general rule is that a judicial officer should not be removed from office before his date of retirement, there are exceptions to this general rule.

The appropriate way of removing the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief judges of the Federal High Court and Federal Capital Territory, the President of the National Industrial Court, the Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, and the President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital territory is by the President of Nigeria so removing that judge based on a two-thirds majority of the Senate.

For the states (Chief Judge of a State, the Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of a state and the President of the Customary Court of Appeal of a state), they may be removed by the Governor of the state concerned based on a two-thirds majority of the members of the House of Assembly of the State. The recommendation of the National Judicial Council (which also recommended their appointment in the first place) is required for their removal. These are the three basic parts to the removal of a judicial officer in Nigeria. 

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