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Published On: Wed, Mar 19th, 2014

In the tradition of justice

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By Hamed Hendrix

The eminent role of the judiciary as the bastion of justice and arbiter in the lives of citizens as well as the governments of nations has been upheld for centuries and is unlikely to be downplayed by the ceaseless sequence of changes affecting all facets of society in the name of modernity. No matter what the cynics may say about the inevitable weaknesses of human institutions, the judiciary has proved to be indispensible to the sustenance of a common ground of rules and regulations and the application of sanctions for the moderation of human activities in a just manner. It would be nerve-wracking to contemplate a world without a judicial system !

The credit for the undiminished functionality and effectiveness of the judiciary despite the passage of time and the attendant dynamics of changing circumstances must go to the learned men and women who by education, training and disposition dedicated themselves to giving the bibliography of laws and statutes a human value and a humane valour. Perhaps more than any other calling in human society that of a just arbiter in the affairs of man and institutions demands much more exertion of human virtues. Experience has shown that in rising above the common denominators of the common man, the exemplary judge summons intrinsic human virtues which supersede and transcend the infamous weaknesses of the flesh.

The ability to rise above base temptations and human frailties that most people succumb to at the exorbitant expense of reputation and duty is therefore the distinguishing determinant of potential for success as a jurist and judge. It is beyond contention that it takes more than an erudite scholar of law or a bald and bookish emeritus dean of law for that matter, to turn-out a true and tested just judge and honest arbiter in the affairs of people. It is fair comment to attribute the outnumbering of judges by lawyers to the popularity of convenience over conscience in many a law graduate’s choice between bar and bench at the crossroads of career. Some legal pundits insist that this also why only a few solicitors can fit into the judges’ robes, especially in terms of temperament and temptation.

These initial submissions have been provoked by the recent controversy contrived by certain vested interests in the judiciary over the qualifying factors for appointment of a President for the Court of Appeal. As can be gleaned from the tone of this article, it is not a legal treatise from the learned legion, but a civil intervention from the league of public affairs analysts. It is bereft of the legalese trappings that obfuscate many an issue of common law ostensibly intended for the enlightenment of the commoner. Nevertheless, by virtue of the public spirited intendment of the establishment of the Court of Appeal and appointment of its President, public interest and concern about the process and the personae involved cannot be abridged or denied on the usual excuses of locus standi or jurisdiction, certainly not when we are having our say in the court of public opinion.

Of particular offence is the sudden exaggeration of the significance of the “seniority tradition” said to have been observed like a feudal rite in the appointment of judges to the Court of Appeal and appointment of its President. In this day and age when even tradition itself is changing with the times, it is mind-boggling to hear such primordial protestations coming from the temple of justice that has always upheld the validity of tangible evidence over speculative scenarios. After decades of scholarship leading to the attainment of certificated competences as transparent, credible and equitable criteria for appointment and promotion to various categories of judicial posts and offices, a resort to such unconventional and ambiguous considerations as “seniority tradition” as overriding qualification for appointment of judges and the President of the Court of Appeal is retrogressive and an abhorrent abuse of due process.

In relation to the stated supremacy of sterling human qualities as predisposing virtues of a just judge, I must emphasize that the academic and personal qualifications acquired by a judge provide more relevant parameters for assessing his suitability to assume the role of first among equals than the singular factor of “seniority” which is after all attainable by skill as by stealth. We cannot deny the prevalence of subjective, sentimental and a host of extra-curricular issues like politics in the cloud of considerations that often come to play in deciding appointments and promotions in the civil service, unfortunately including the judiciary. As resilient as these repugnant recourses are to have survived thus far, they are better busted and kept at bay in assessing suitable candidates for appointment or promotion by focusing on more rational and realistic credentials such as academic attainment, track record of performance, conduct and reputation in addition to suitability for the specific appointment. By the time these factors are assessed, there will emerge an hierarchy of distinctions from which the best person for the job will stand out.

We cannot adopt an evasive or escapist approach to crucial matters such as appointment of President of the Court of Appeal without exposing the exalted office to the vagaries of unbridled jostling and attendant sharp practices of contenders. If at all seniority is to be regarded as an enabling factor for appointment as President of the Court of Appeal, it cannot be the sole factor, nor should it be the overriding consideration for obvious reasons as stated earlier. In fact, if at the end of the day, the only factor on which a prospective Court of Appeal President hinges his suitability is the “seniority tradition”, then such a prospector is the least qualified for appointment.

Hamed Hendrix is a public affairs analyst in Kano


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