Powers when not kept separate intoxicate and suffocate all at once
Sir: Seniority is one of the chief hallmarks of the legal profession in Nigeria.
Seniority makes precedence and by tradition and training, lawyers, no matter how cantankerous they get, know when to invoke seniority and what to do when seniority is invoked. This tradition of seniority giving rise to precedence in the legal profession naturally flows from the bar as mother, to the bench. Judges by virtue of appointment dates take precedence. When the margins get very fine, very minor details are invoked to determine seniority.
Seniority in the judiciary is especially sacred because it is what determines who heads the judiciary thus helping to bring the indispensable benefit of experience to this position which crucially takes the lead in justice`s unenviable task of upholding what is compliant with the law and denouncing what runs counter to it.
In Nigeria, the executive at all levels have always sought to control the judiciary. Recognising the amount of constitutional powers it wields and its ability to disrupt any party not convened in accordance to law, the members of the executive, especially those ill at ease with the checks and balances inherent in democracy, always seek to trample the judiciary under their boot heels.
The National Judicial Council which is the body reposed with the constitutional powers to begin the process of appointing, disciplining and removing judges have had its plate full with many cases where seniority was given a short shrift in filling the position of the head of the judiciary. In this, Cross River State is the latest theatre of ugly. The governor`s insistence in eschewing seniority in appointing the subsisting Chief Judge has left judiciary in a limbo, leaving weighty matters of justice unattended to. Executive pettiness could have no better exemplar.
The judiciary, which should be independent and impartial to do what it is set up to do is being subjected to the caprices of the governor who should by the workings of democracy mind his own office. What is happening in Cross River State does not bode well for democracy in Nigeria. It is ominous for our democracy and because it has happened in other states, it is safe to say that unless it is checked and stamped out, the perverse pattern of executive interference in the judiciary will only continue to find new theatres.
• Kene Obiezu, wrote from Abuja
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