The National Judicial Council (NJC) and other entities saddled with the appointment of judicial officers have come under scrutiny following allegation by a retired judge of the High Court of Kogi State, Justice Alaba Omolaye Ajileye that the appointment process is fraught with undue influence and lacks transparency.

Justice Ajileye, who x-rayed the judiciary last Wednesday in Lokoja during a valedictory court session in his honour, said the process of appointing judicial officers in Nigeria is shrouded in secrecy and clandestineness.

Citing what he called ‘evils associated with appointments’, Ajileye said: “Another evil is that recommendations of Honourable Judges and Honourable Justices don’t count. The act of calling for recommendations looks to me like a ritual, exercised merely to fulfil all righteousness. Those who would be appointed would still be appointed with or without recommendations.

“The number of recommendations a candidate receives guarantees nothing for him. The third evil I have seen is that the person a candidate knows matters a lot. And that person must carry a lot of ‘weight.’

”The fourth evil is that the place where you come from also counts. In Nigerian parlance, it is called the federal character or quota system. There is nothing evil on the face of the principle of federal character. What is evil in it is the way the principle is applied by the functionaries of government. This underscores the point that it is the human being that makes or mars an institution.”

He recalled that the Nigerian judiciary at the apogee of its glory withstood military tyranny, stressing that today’s Judiciary has succumbed to the corrupting influences of moneybag politicians.

Ajileye said: ”It was a healthy judicial system in the days of yore, with a reputation for integrity and competence. This was mainly attributable to a fair system of appointment of judges in the superior judiciary wherein appointments were generally made on merit alone. The puzzling question here is, at what point did we get it wrong?”

While admonishing judges to free themselves from every form of influence except law, Ajileye said judges must liberate themselves from self-imposed shackles and fetters that inhibit independence.

“They can do this if they exhibit, at all times, requisite judicial character. The qualities of courage, firmness, integrity, uprightness, patience, open-mindedness, understanding of the law, compassion, humility, and courtesy should be inseparable from the personality” he added.

He appealed to lawyers to protect and strengthen the independence of the judiciary by being vigilant and prepared to resist any external pressure, forces and interference in the judiciary.

The respected jurist is reputed as one of the most cerebral judges on the High Court bench. Controversy has trailed his lack of elevation to the Court of Appeal, moreso as he is renowned as perhaps the foremost authority in the judiciary on electronic evidence in Nigeria.

Click here for a full text of the valedictory address.

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