The last has not been heard about the feisty showcase session on judicial appointments at the recently concluded International Bar Association (IBA) Conference in Paris, France.

CITY LAWYER gathered that Nigeria dominated the discourse following damning revelation by the immediate past Abia State Attorney-General & Commissioner for Justice, MR. UCHE IHEDIWA SAN of the palpable corruption that has enveloped the appointment of judges in Nigeria.

The session however got heated to boiling point when Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau SAN tackled Ihediwa following his expose. The face-off got so feisty that the Moderator allegedly threatened to walk out the NBA President from the forum. Referring to the face-off in a recent report, senior lawyer, Mr. Olawale Fapohunda SAN wrote: “Such was the intensity of the back and forth that the Chairperson of the session, Barones (sic) Helena Kennedy, threatened to ask the ‘acteurs principaux’ to take the debate outside the meeting room.”

The showcase session titled ‘Rule of Law Symposium: assessing the impact of the judicial appointments process in undermining the rule of law,’ was chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy KC of the IBA Human Rights Institute, London. The session discussed the importance of judicial independence and the threats it faces, particularly in the context of judicial appointments processes. It highlighted the case of Israel, where the government is attempting to undermine judicial independence by gaining control over the appointments process and overriding judicial decisions. The session underscores the need for vigilance and advocacy to protect judicial independence and ensure the rule of law.

The Panelists included Dr. Babatunde Ajibade SAN (who spoke from Nigeria’s perspective); Deborah Enix-Ross, President/Chairperson, American Bar Association (ABA); Justice Esther Kitimbo Kisaakye of the Supreme Court of Uganda; Justice Willy Mutunga, former Chief Justice of Republic of Kenya, and Mr. Jan Smit of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, London. Like Justice Kisaakye, Mr. Gideon Fisher, an Israeli lawyer, spoke virtually from Tel Aviv, Israel.

In this interview, Ihediwa told CITY LAWYER that Maikyau attempted to bully him during the session, saying it took the intervention of the Moderator to protect him.

During a question-and-answer session on the appointment of judges, I came out to contribute to the discussion.

I said there is a need to amend our Constitution in relation to the appointment of members of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) in the states. I noted that under section 173, the state Governor appoints 5 of its 7 members. So they (commission) will do his bidding. Even the NBA members are appointed by him. So, the Governor can influence the appointment.

I also said that the present system breads corruption. I cited the last process in Abia (State), where I was involved. I said the JSC was accused of corruption, i.e., accepting bribes, and there was evidence of this allegation.

When the (NBA) President took the floor, he lampooned me for seeing corruption and failing to prosecute. He was angry that we were washing our dirty lining in the public. When his speech was so condescending on me, I angrily stood up and voiced my exception to his language and accusatory posture.

The moderator, Baroness Kenedy, intervened to protect me from the bullying speech of our president. She threatened to walk him out. The president left afterwards.

Mr. Olumide Akpata cleared the air when he corroborated the presentation of Dr. (Babatunde) Ajibade to the effect that to get an incorrigible judge in Nigeria today through our appointment process is like playing a lottery. It will be one in every 10. The (NBA) President expects me to prosecute members of JSC. Can an AG do that in Nigeria? The judges are prosecutable by NJC.

THE SUN newspaper published a retraction saying I was not included in their allegation of bribery in the appointment of judges. This is after my letter threatening to sue the newspaper. The scandal was published in the SUN newspaper of 1st November 2021 front page. You can also talk to Barrister Charles Oputa on the allegation of bribery.

What I did was to ensure that the crooks on the list were not appointed judges. I fought it for over one year. I feel fulfilled that they were not appointed until I left. I made humongous enemies. My crusade – for which I used Abia as an example – is that in the appointment of judges, the JSC is a willing tool in the hands of the Governor. The man who took the bribe on behalf of his confederate was a High Court judge. He is under NJC, not Attorney-General. At a SPIDEL conference in which I was a panelist, held at NBA House, I raised the same issue.

To view the full feisty session, click here.

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