Dattijo’s Speech Sparks Calls for Supreme Court Reforms

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Against the backdrop of claims by former Justice of the Supreme Court,  Justice Musa Datijo, that the Chief Justice of Nigeria wields enormous powers capable of derailing the course of justice, the House of Representatives has reiterated its readiness to look at the allegations and come up with what is best for the nation’s judiciary.

Justice Datijo, until recently a member of the bench at the apex court, bared his mind last week on the need to prune the powers of the CJN given the oversight functions he exercises on a number of legal institutions across the country.

Speaking at a valedictory session organised in his honour on Friday, Justice Dattijo said, “As presently structured, the CJN is the Chairman of the National Judicial Commission, which oversees both the appointment and discipline of judges. He is equally the chair of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, the National Judicial Institute, and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee that appoints Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

“My considered opinion is that 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 the NJC, FJSC, NJI, and LPPC, appointments as council, board, and commitment 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.

“The CJN has the power to appoint 80 per cent of members of the council and 60 per cent of members of FJSC. The same applies to NJI and LPPC.”

While noting that such enormous powers “are effortlessly abused,” Justice Datijo called for a paradigm shift, saying, “This needs to change. Continued denial of the existence of this threatening anomaly weakens effective judicial oversight in the country. Appropriate steps could have been taken earlier to fill outstanding vacancies in the apex court.

“Why have these steps not been timeously taken? It is evident that the decision not to fill the vacancies in the court is deliberate. It is all about the absolute powers vested in the office of the CJN and the responsible exercise of the same.”

Speaking exclusively with The PUNCH on Sunday, a member of the House of Representatives representing Obokun/Oriade Federal Constituency, Osun State, Oluwole Oke, said lawmakers in the Green Chambers were concerned about the issues raised by the retired Supreme Court justice.

Oke, who doubles as the House Committee Chairman on Judiciary, said work was already ongoing on a number of issues raised by Datijo in his valedictory address.

He said, “We are concerned about the Datijo’s revelations but as it is now, it is an allegation.

“The judiciary is an independent arm of government, though, we have two standing Committees of the House overseeing the judiciary.”

On whether the House Committee on Judiciary would take into account the issues Datijo spoke about, in the course of the next constitutional amendment, Oke said, “We will look into the issues. Already, we have a referral at hand which we are working on. It is about the lack of adequate number of Justices at the appellate court and the Supreme Court which has hampered efficient and timely delivery of justice in Nigeria.”

Meanwhile, some senior lawyers have called for a constitutional amendment and judicial reform that would strip the CJN of some powers.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, agreed with Justice Dattijo, saying, “We know that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, no matter how humble such a person will be. I will, therefore, urge that the constitutional amendment take these things into consideration.”

Ozekhome also called for the immediate appointment of more Supreme Court justices.

Similarly, a former Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Afam Osigwe (SAN), said there was a need to review some of the bodies headed by the CJN.

He said, “I am not particularly commenting on what Justice Dattijo said but I would like to put on record that I have mentioned severally in the media that there is everything wrong with the CJN being the Chairman of FJSC, which makes recommendations to the NJC and also chairing the same council that considers the recommendation.

“I also think the law should be amended to only make the CJN the chairman of the NJC while the FJSC should be reconstituted. I also believe in reconstituting other bodies while persons outside the judiciary or retired judicial officers should head them. I am not saying this with a particular reference to this particular Chief Justice of Nigeria, it has always been so.”

Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, noted that the current arrangement dates back to the immediate-post independence period, saying like the CJN, the President and the Senate President also enjoy enormous powers.

Adegboruwa said, “This has been the position since independence. It is expected that the person who occupies that office will continually use his discretion for effective management. It would be difficult to share those powers with any other agency given the nature of the office of the CJN.

“It is the same thing with the Office of the President. The powers given to the President are enormous; the same as the Senate President. The Senate President presides over the National Assembly; he is the chairman of the National Assembly Commission; and also the Chairman of the National Assembly Legislative Institute.

“It is not proper to just isolate the CJN for the purpose of stripping these powers.”

He, however, urged the CJN to learn to consult his vice before reaching some decisions.

On the low number of Supreme Court justices, Adegboruwa, said, “It is quite a sad tale on our judicial system to have just 10 justices in the Supreme Court.

“Generally, the judiciary in Nigeria deserves a state of emergency as the appellate courts have become more of a burial ground for the administration of justice in Nigeria.”

Source : Punch