The president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has written a letter on behalf of the Association to the Chief Justice of Nigeria to protest the exclusion of legal practitioners in private practice from the provisional shortlist of candidates for appointment to the SCN.
The letter reads in full:
23rd June 2022
Hon. Justice Dr. Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, CFR
Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman, Federal Judicial Service Commission
Supreme Court Complex
Three Arms Zone
RE: APPOINTMENT OF SIX (6) JUSTICES OF THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA
The Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) is in receipt of my Lord’s letter dated 27th May,
2022 wherein you requested that the NBA comments on the suitability or otherwise
of the candidates nominated from five (5) geo-political zones to fill available vacancies at the Supreme Court of Nigeria (“SCN”).
My Lord would recall that by a letter dated 19th January 2022, you invited the NBA to nominate suitable candidates for consideration for appointment as Justices of the SCN to replace six (6) Justices of the Supreme Court who have died, retired, or are about to retire.
In the letter of 19th January 2022, my Lord specified the requirements that the nominees must supply and drew a clear distinction between the requirements for serving Judicial Officers, and the requirements for Legal Practitioners in Private Practice. Following that invitation, the NBA reached out to its members on 7th February, 2022 requesting for submission of expressions of interest from eligible members for nomination to the SCN bench. The list of interested candidates who met the specified requirements was sent to your Lordship within the specified timeframe.
We had been optimistic that my Lord’s invitation was an indication that Legal
Practitioners in Private Practice who are eminently qualified, and who responded to the request for expressions of interest would be considered for appointment to the SCN. Indeed, this is the clear intendment of Rule 3(1)(b) and Rule (3)(6) of the National Judicial Council’s Guidelines for the Appointment of Judicial Officers (the “Appointment Guidelines”).
My Lord would therefore understand our dismay when we noted from the contents of your Lordship’s letter dated 27th May, 2022 that all the shortlisted candidates are Justices of the Court of Appeal and that none of the Legal Practitioners in Private Practice who expressed interest and whose names and enviable credentials were sent to your Lordship for consideration was included in the provisional shortlist of candidates for appointment to the SCN.
If indeed there was no intention to consider Legal Practitioners in Private Practice for such appointment, we query the need for the invitation to the NBA to nominate candidates, inclusive of Legal Practitioners in Private Practice. If, however, the
candidates nominated were found unsuitable or wanting in any material particular,
we would appreciate some indication as to the criteria applied as required by Rule
3(8) of the Appointment Guidelines, so that we can ensure that more suitable candidates are put forward by the NBA next time that appointments are to be made.
We strongly urge your Lordship to reconsider the nomination process in light of these observations.
Without prejudice to this, and in furtherance of its commitment to ensuring that the judicial appointments process in Nigeria is made more transparent, the NBA has sent the names of the candidates contained in the provisional shortlist forwarded by your Lordship to its members for comments, and we will submit any adverse comments received from our members to your Lordship for consideration. This is an approach that the NBA recently adopted in order to improve, and add value to, the process by which judicial officers are appointed or promoted in Nigeria. We believe the quality of appointments, as well as elevations from one level of court to another, will benefit immensely from the added scrutiny such publication and public scrutiny of prospective candidates provide.
Please remain assured of my esteemed professional regards.