Olumide Akpata, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), says it is only by sheer luck that the Nigerian judiciary can produce a good judge.
Mr Akpata spoke recently at the International Bar Association (IBA) conference in Paris, France.
Addressing the gathering, the former NBA president noted that Nigeria remains the largest black nation on earth, adding that the country is confronted with a major problem he termed, “judiciary capture.”
Chidi Odinkalu, a law professor and former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), shared Mr Akpata’s perspectives on his X handle on Friday.
In two short videos posted on X (formerly Twitter), Mr Akpata who is vying for the Edo State governorship election next year, was seen lamenting how Nigeria’s political class had emasculated the judicial system.
He was the NBA president between 2021 and 2022, before being succeeded by Yakubu Maikyau in August 2022.
Drawing on his experience as president of the NBA, Mr Akpata recalled how flawed the recruitment process of judges is in the country.
“For a good judge to emerge out of that process is by fluke only; sheer luck with judicial appointment in Nigeria. It is ridiculous.”
Being president of the NBA conferred Mr Akpata with the statutory membership of the National Judicial Council (NJC), a body saddled with the responsibilities of recruiting and disciplining erring judges in Nigeria.
“While I was president of the NBA, what I found out was that there is a deliberate attempt on the part of the political class in Nigeria to capture the judiciary. And that has very insidious consequences for rule of law in Nigeria. It is deliberate and it is intentional. And it is achieving results for them.”
Without giving further details of his observations while being on the recruitment panel for judges, Mr Akpata described his findings as “bizarre.”
“Because the kind of people who show up as judges have no business being there.”
The recruitment process of judges in Nigeria has been controversial with many lawyers calling for reforms.
Recently, Mr Odinkalu, a vocal critic of the process of appointment of judges, wondered why heads of courts like the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Olukayode Ariwoola and the Presidents of the Court of Appeal and National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Monica Dongban-Mensem and Benedict Kanyip, respectively, would appoint their children or spouses as judges.
He also described the situation as “judicial capture.”
There are several retired and serving justices including politicians whose children and spouses currently serve as judicial officers across various courts in the court.
Public confidence in judiciary eroded
Referencing the burning of the High Court complex in Lagos State during the EndSARS protests in October 2020, Mr Akpata said the picture of a man holding a machete and clad in a judge’s robes – wig and gown – was a clear message to the Nigerian judiciary that justice was not being served from the courts.
“So, what we have is a total erosion of confidence in the judiciary.”
….You can see the evidence of the corruption in their judgments. pic.twitter.com/TNvmsYkyCB
— Chidi Odinkalu, CGoF (@ChidiOdinkalu) November 17, 2023
He said politicians, especially governors, pauperise judges by denying them their basic entitlements like official cars and accommodation.
Mr Akpata disclosed that “some chief judges kneel before the governors” to beg for funds.
Judicial unions in Nigeria have been demanding financial independence but to no avail.
Judges’ salaries are abysmally poor, a situation Mr Akpata said breeds corruption.
“When you know a man (judge) that knows the law but his judgement flies against the face of what the law should be, you know that there is something else motivating him or her.”
He said some judges were living above their legitimate income by sending their children to Ivy Leagues like Cambridge, Yale and Harvard.
Urges IBA to intervene
Mr Akpata asserted that the “IBA being the global body of the legal profession has a role to play in dealing with what I call ‘the judiciary capture.'”
He said what happens in Nigeria has wider implications for the world.
Responding, an official of the IBA whose name could not be ascertained from the video promised to consider Mr Akpata’s concerns.
“What I am going to commit to you is that the IBA will put our minds together on whether a statement on the situation should come from the IBA,” the IBA official said.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.Donate
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999