The Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC) is the elite body of senior judges and legal practitioners in the country. The body which is always presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria has been influential over the years as critical judicial decisions cannot be taken without its approval. The award of the prestigious Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) title is also one of the decisions it oversees.
The NJC is supposed to be the most trustworthy organization in the country, populated by the country’s most educated and culturally literate elite. However, like everything else in Nigeria, the council has become known for its failings rather than its successes. In recent times, the NJC has been trailed with allegations of corruption levelled against some of its high level members operating within and outside the country. To compound matters, blatant politicization and interference by politicians and people of influence have tainted the organization’s image and reduced them to pawns in a much larger game.
The NJC failed Justice Ayo Salami, refusing to intervene when he was suspended by former President Goodluck Jonathan with trumped up charges. This seemed a pivotal moment when the NJC’s leadership seemed to shift from an autonomous organization to a vassal of whoever is in power at the time. That was just the first of many ‘executive orders’ Goodluck Jonathan was allowed to perpetrate.
The NJC also failed while former Governor Rotimi Amaechi appointed Justice Peter Agumagu as the Chief Judge of Rjvers state in defiance to the organization’s recognized appointee Justice Okocha, When the NJC finally decided to take action and suspend Justice Peter Agumagu from the bar, it was already too late and Amaechi had shown sufficiently that he was above the law. In response to the suspension of Agumagu, Rotimi Amaechi forced the courts in his state to close. He has neither the power, no jurisdiction to initiate such a drastic edict, but the NJC was too incompetent to actually push for proper punishment for his abject abuse of power.
At the moment, the NJC is experiencing another failure in Abia state, owing to the suspension of the Abia State Chief Judge Justice Theresa Uzokwe by the Abia state house of Assembly , she has been immediately replaced by the Governor with Justice Obisike Orji.
The illegal suspension which took place few days ago is yet to be addressed by the Abia state NJC through any formal channels. If the Abia state NJC chapter had any autonomy, then the newly appointed Justice Obisike would have declined his appointment and insisted he ascend the role of Chief Justice through a legally sanctioned route. Obisike hasless than 20 years of experience at the bar and as such is simply not qualified to hold court as the Acting CJ of Abia state. His decision to go ahead anyways illustrates the level of indiscipline in the Judiciary.
We have all lost faith in the Nigerian Judicial Council, but it is not all lost yet. The current debacle unfolding in Abia state is the perfect opportunity for the leadership of the NJC to swoop in and redeem their image. We pray for our democracy’s sake, that they do.