Nepotism Under the Current CJN has taken a New Form.

By Bayo Akinlade 

When one considers the history of the legal profession anywhere in the world it is not unusual to have family members heavily present in the practice whether as lawyers or as judges; afterall it is a noble profession and it’s nobility and the high cost of being a member of the profession would mean one is of wealthy and influential means.

Over the years, children of lawyers have themselves become lawyers, to take over their parents’ firms or their parents’ spots in the practice. And this goes for many professions and business that have survived from generation to generations. We mostly hear the term “Family Business”, the legal profession is mostly structured this way as well, with many lawyers wanting and even ensuring that their children become lawyers to carry on the legal legacy and if not children, a brother, sister, nephew or a cousin – and even in-laws.

It is also the same if one’s parent or family member becomes a Judge or a magistrate. There is a strong leaning towards bringing one’s family into the same line of work, especially if you feel that the line of work is a prosperous and comfortable one. Wealth and influence are the key words here.

On the part of practice in a law firm, it is mostly about wealth while for the Judiciary, it’s about influence.

What then makes it a big deal regarding the current state of affairs where many have criticized the appointment of Judges with very close family relationships at the level of the National Judicial Council, the Federal and State Judicial Service Commissions which are the appointing bodies for the Judiciary.

Let me opine here that I do not think this is about whether or not family members of Heads of Court are qualified or not, it’s about the naked show of Judicial rascality at the highest level. (Pardon my bluntness). This rascality is caused by the inadequacy of our current laws regarding appointment of Judges. Did you know that at the State level, appointment of magistrates is in the hands of State Governors? These Governors also have tremendous powers in the appointment of High Court Judges and Justices of the Court of Appeal? Indirectly, every Supreme Court Justice and all Heads of Courts owe their position to one Governor or the other. But this is not my point here.

“Let me opine here that I do not think this is about whether or not family members of Heads of Court are qualified or not, it’s about the naked show of Judicial rascality at the highest level.”

The Judiciary is not a law firm or a private business where one who reaches its highest office should imagine it as a legacy platform in which to insert his family members or close friends. It is a service structure that requires people with a high moral standard, people who are not easily influenced and who will speak truth to power; people who, when they get to the position of authority, would consider the best minds and are willing to appoint an unknown, not socially or politically exposed lawyer into the Bench.

The dangers of this nepotistic trend is unquantifiable; it chips away at the independence of the Judiciary – not in a financial way but in a moral way. A judge who becomes one with the influence of a family member is already compromised, even though they may not know it. But when push comes to shove, our Nigerian traditional ethics dominate the ethics given to us by our colonial masters – respect your elders or be cursed for life

Again, one would wonder why anyone will want their family members on the Bench because it is obvious there is no money in it (wealth). Yes, judicial officers are not paid very well but the way they insert their children and other family members into the Bench may mean there is wealth to gain, since you cannot survive this economy on influence alone except that influence translates to wealth – in which case we end up having a corrupt judge to deal with.

I end this to ask, what should we do to discourage this current nepotistic practice by heads of court?

Let me reiterate here that within the profession family presence is not unusual; judges whose children are lawyers get a few pecks – they get to start off in a law firm of their choice, they have access to clients (not for their expertise most times but for who their parents, or uncle or brother or aunt etc are).

It is not unusual but it shouldn’t be obvious!

  • Bayo Akinlade is a lawyer and Convener of Fight Against Corruption in the Judiciary (FIACJ) and Citizens Support for Lower Courts

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