The present constitution of the National Judicial Commission (NJC) hands too much power to the Chief Justice of Nigeria and needs to be reviewed.
Joseph Otteh, the Director of Access to Justice, stated this on Monday following NJC’s recommendation to President Goodluck Jonathan for the reinstatement of Justice Ayo Salami as President of the Court of (PCA) Appeal after nine months of suspension.
Mr. Otteh said that the development makes it self-evident that constitutional reforms are needed to ensure that this ‘mistake’ is not repeated.
“As presently structured and constituted, the integrity of NJC’s oversight functions will, in the main, rest on the integrity of on individual, the CJN (Chief Justice of Nigeria), who has power to appoint about 60% of the membership of the Council,” said Mr. Otteh.
“This needs to change, for this power can be abused by a sitting CJN.
If this happens, it can undercut the utility and effectiveness of judicial oversight in Nigeria.
“Access to Justice also urges revisiting the propriety of keeping an incumbent CJN as the Chairman of NJC.
“The present system gives the CJN too much powers over what grievances are brought to the Council, how the Council reacts to them, and when the Council reacts to them.
“These powers also can be abused by a sitting Chairman,” said Mr. Otteh.
Mr. Otteh said that the recall of Justice Salami to office meets the requirements of equal and procedural justice and helps assuage the indignance felt by many at the unfairness of the treatment meted to him.
He, however, added that having reverted to the status quo before the suspension; the substantive question concerning whether Justice Salami has acted faithfully with the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers should be left open until such a time we can reach informed judgment.
“So much is going on at the moment that may have important implications for this question,” Mr. Otteh said.
The group further stated that NJC’s action would help reduce tensions triggered by what was generally regarded as a politically motivated suspension, and help unify a polarized community of stakeholders who have looked forward to a day when the injustice would be undone.
“That day is in sight now if President Jonathan obliges the request for lifting the suspension,” said Mr. Otteh.