Obamogie: NBA should be involved in appointment of judges
Barrister Kingsley Obamogie is one of the longest serving members of the bar in Edo State, spanning decades of practice. In this interview with ALEMMA-OZIORUVA ALIU, he said cases going to Supreme Court from Court of Appeal should be restricted to constitutional matters.
What do you think should be done to achieve necessary reforms in the judiciary?
The area where we need urgent reform is clearing the backlog of cases pending in the courts, particularly at the Supreme Court. It takes an average of 10 years now for a regular civil matter to be heard in the Supreme Court. As I speak with you now, the Supreme Court is still hearing matters that got there as at 2006. They have not entered 2007. The only exception is pre-election matters and criminal matters. That is the only exception. Every other matter has to take its turn on the queue. Until it gets to your turn, you are not heard. So, that is the only challenge that we have. And my humble suggestion in this area is that; first, the constitution should be amended. The right of appeal to the Supreme Court should not be automatic. Appeal to the Supreme Court should be mainly important constitutional matters, and perhaps, criminal matters to protect the rights of the accused persons to fair hearing.
Right now, every case, even the simplest of debt can be delayed at the Supreme Court. We cannot allow that. In a country of 170 million people, we have about 21 justices and the Supreme Court is not even having a full complement, now we have 16 to 17 justices hearing appeal for 170 million people. It is usually not possible to have or give speedy hearing. Until, we amend the provision of the constitution to restrict the right of access to the Supreme Court, we will continue to have that problem. But meanwhile, I will humbly plea that if it is possible, let the Supreme Court sit in multiple panels in order to clear the huge backlogs that we have.
What do you think is responsible for this backlog of cases?
The backlog is due to the few judges that hear the appeals all over the country. As I said, unlike in the past when appeals were few, now you have more enlightened population, which has increased over time. The economy has expanded. So, there are litigations all over the place. And every matter in Nigeria now from the lowest court, magistrate court or area court, there is the likelihood of it getting to the Supreme Court. And once the parties express that desire, based on the extant provisions of the constitution, the Supreme Court is bound to give them a hearing.
What is your view on corruption in the judiciary?
My suggestion is that the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) should be carried along in the appointment of our judges. NBA should be the clearinghouse because we know ourselves. And we must be able to certify that every person nominated for appointment to any superior court of record in Nigeria is a person that is qualified for that position. If we appoint from the mainstream of the bar, we will not have this problem. So, that is our view. Justices should be appointed mainly from the bar, just as it is the practices in England. Let them be seasoned practitioners. And they will know they have something at stake.
What is your take on the independence of the judiciary?
No, the Judiciary has been largely independent, particularly at the federal level; the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. It is only in the states that we have problems with some governors trying to overreach the state judiciaries. The Court of Appeal is largely independent of the influence of the executive arm. It is the same thing with the Supreme Court. So, we don’t have problems at that level. And it is for the judges to really assert themselves, because enough constitutional provisions have been made to protect them. A judge cannot be removed from office on account of judgment delivered by him. All we are saying now is that the funding of the judiciary should be enhanced, so that our courts system as an institution, should be developed to a level, that modern facilities are made available. Judges don’t have to sit down recording in long hands. Let us provide modern tools for our courts, which is all that we are saying. And make the place conducive for them.
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