Recently, I granted an interview to a friend for her PhD research. The interview was about the efficiency of Nigeria’s anti-money laundering regime with particular reference to commercial banks. In the course of that interview, I stated that one of the challenges we have had in the crusade against anti-corruption is the caliber of persons appointed to serve in institutions.
Many times, merit is disregarded and this has allowed persons who do not have the requisite qualification, character and integrity for the offices they hold gain access to such offices. Nepotism has become the order of the day and appointment into sensitive positions of leadership have become the means by which political loyalists are settled.
One of the institutions that has been bastardised by nepotism in Nigeria is the judiciary. Although there are laid down procedures and criteria for the appointment of judicial officers, some appointments have deviated from the requirements and this has left the institution weaker. The case of Rivers State which is the focus of this piece is a reflection of what is happening in other parts of the country.
Nepotism in the Rivers judiciary
On Friday, May 24, 2019 the Chief Judge of Rivers State, Hon Justice Adanma Iyayi-Lamikanra swore-in 11 new Magistrates for Rivers State. This was done without any advertisement unlike the usual practice where vacancies in the Judiciary are advertised/publicised to enable persons who are qualified participate in the recruitment exercise. The entire process was an undercover arrangement with a list full of cronies and allies of the governor.
Those appointed to the office of Chief Magistrate Grade 2 of Rivers State are:
- Chinelo Chidubem Odili – daughter of former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili and ally of incumbent governor, Chief (Barr) Nyesom Wike.
- Cecilia Ledum Mitee – daughter of activist and former President of Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) Barr. Ledum Mitee.
- Comfort Adangor – Wife of the incumbent Attorney General of Rivers State.
- Dumyi Lessor Konya – Daughter of Mrs. Roseline Konya, Former Commissioner for Environment, River State and an ally of Governor Nyesom Wike.
- Chinwe Nsirim Amanda.
- Omonigho Wibani – Daughter of the incumbent Chief Judge of Rivers State.
- Linda Sotonye Harry – Wife of Former Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly, Tonye Harry.
- Udenna Filipa Dike.
- Onugbum Nnenda Obiageri – Wife of Special Assistant to Governor Nyesom Wike on Lands and Survey.
- Nneka Eze Obuzor – Wife of Governor Nyesom Wike’s brother-in-law (brother of the governor wife).
- Ihuoma Beauty Emmanuel Okere (Nee Wike) – a relative of Governor Nyesom Wike.
Important to note: Mrs Nneka Eze Obuzor is not qualified for the position of Chief Magistrate because she was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2014. By the Rivers State Magistrates’ Court Law No. 2 of 2004, a person shall not be appointed as Chief Magistrate Grade I and II unless qualified to practice as an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and has been so qualified for not less than seven (7) years. Clearly, her appointment is a breach of the law.
To make things worse, there are several Magistrates who have been in service and are long overdue for promotion in accordance with the Civil Service Rules but have not been promoted. This calls into further question the integrity of the entire system which allowed new appointees many of whom lack experience on the bench to rank above the existing Magistrates.
It is now well known that some judicial officers are so closely affiliated or related to serving politicians that it should warrant their disqualification from certain matters such as anti-corruption matters and election petitions.
We have issues: Part of the problem is the inadequacy of statutory provisions for the appointments made to sensitive offices such as judicial offices and other agencies of government dealing with sensitive tasks such as anti-corruption. For instance, the statutory provision for the appointment of a Judge of the High Court of a State as stated in section 271(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is qualification to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria for a period of not less than ten (10) years. Nothing more.
In reality, this provision is grossly inadequate for such a sensitive office. Firstly, not everyone who is qualified to practice law is actually in the business of law practice either privately or as a civil or public servant. But the law only requires qualification to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria for at least ten years, and this can create room for the employment of persons who do not have requisite experience and capacity to be judicial officers. As a result, we have judicial officers with inadequate experience dispensing (in)justice.
Secondly, there is no indication of the vital ingredient of the character of a person to be appointed as Judge of a High Court. It is assumed that this will form part of what the National Judicial Council and the House of Assembly would consider in screening but that is not good enough. The criteria for appointment of Senior Advocates of Nigeria is far more robust and well spelt out to enable potential applicants and even the public know what is expected of aspirants for the office.
Needless to say that in time to come, we will reap the fruits of our past decisions, actions and inaction; one of which is the danger of a judicial system completely bereft of any moral standard and even requisite capacity to handle sensitive issues of national importance. The symbol of justice is a blindfolded lady with a sword in one hand and a scale in the other. The essence of the blindfold is that justice should be served irrespective of who is involved. Alas! The recent trend of appointments is paving the way for a symbol of justice without the blindfold – selective justice. Danger looms.