Lessons For Cross River State Judiciary As Onneghen Emerges Substantive Chief Justice Of Nigeria BY ENO IYAMBA, ESQ.

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By CrossRiverWatch Admin

On Tuesday 7th March, 2017 Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN in his capacity as Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, administered oath of office on the Hon. Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen as substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), following a confirmation of his appointment by the National Assembly.

Prior to the appointment and subsequent confirmation, there were numerous controversies and political agitation from several quarters occasioned by the unprecedented and inexplicable initial delay in the final confirmation of the learned law lord as substantive CJN.

By his appointment and confirmation, Hon. Justice WSN Onnoghen is now the 20th CJN and indeed the first CJN from the Southern part of the country in 30 years; he hails from Okurike in Biase Local Government Area, Cross River State.

Away from the initial tension and unnecessary brouhaha generated by the prolonged delay in his confirmation, it is pertinent for one to now take a pause, engage in some introspection and dare to ask some salient questions, to wit:

How come it took the South 30 solid years to produce another CJN after the late Justice Gabriel Irikefe? How come the North consistently and consecutively produced seven CJN’s in 30 years? Was it a mere coincidence or rather a well orchestrated political design and calculation? When next can the South have another CJN after Onnoghen? A careful answer to these questions would go well to drive home the message intended by this piece.

By a community reading of sections 231(3), 238(3), 256(3) and 270(3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a primary requirement for appointment as a High Court Judge (State or Federal) is 10 years post qualification as a legal practitioner; 12 years post call (in the case of a Justice of the Court of Appeal) and 15 years post call (in the case of a Justice of the Supreme Court).

It is the view of this writer that Northern elites have since understood the dynamics and the arithmetical calculations involved in producing a CJN and they have over time constantly utilised same to their best advantage.

A careful review of the profile of past CJNs from the North clearly show that their judicial career commenced mostly in their early and mid thirties, and just when they clocked the mandatory 10 years post Call-to-Bar qualification.

In the Southern counterpart however and in present day Cross River State in particular, those appointed as judges are usually in their late forties and early fifties. And some are usually serving Permanent Secretaries and accomplished career civil servants who ought to have been peacefully retired but yet again appointed and injected into judicial service.

With profound respect, such calibre of judges cannot reasonably be expected to progressively climb the ladder of judicial elevation to the apex court.

There is no doubt that age affects productivity and irrespective of one’s wealth of experience, frailty in age is bound to hamper quality service. No wonder some of our aged judicial officers even struggle to sit on time in their courts. Some usually wait for as late as 11.AM -12 noon before they stagger to court and without any apology to the fully seated Bar who patiently wait for them like a penitent would wait for the coming of the Messiah.

It is regrettable that in the recent call for application for appointment into the Federal High Court Bench, the 13 lawyers from Cross River State who reportedly applied for nomination, are all already in their fifties.

It cannot be argued that apart from his evident hard work and resilience, one major factor that catapulted Justice Onnoghen to the apex court is perhaps the fact that he was appointed a High Court Judge at a youthful age of 34 and at exactly 11 years of his post-call qualification. He was subsequently elevated to the Court of Appeal in 1998 and eventually to the Supreme Court in 2005.

Lawyers from Cross River State in their early thirties and who have attained the requisite qualification, are hereby encouraged to come out from their shell and always muster the courage to apply for judicial vacancies in the State judiciary and other federal courts.

It is about time young lawyers are supported and encouraged to take their prime of place in the scheme of things, including judicial appointment in our courts. Young lawyers’ resourceful and youthful energies, industry, enthusiasm, strength and vigour can no longer be ignored and allowed to lie waste and untapped.

The Cross River State Government and in particular, the State Judicial Service Commission should learn a lesson or two from the youthful beginning of WSN Onnoghen by reverting to the old good days whereby young minds with proven potentials are appointed into the judicial circle and thereby pave the way for their progressive judicial career even to the apex court.

Eno Iyamba, Esq.
Law Officer,
Ministry of Justice
Calabar, Cross River State.

(Culled from: The Seal, A Publication Of The Young Lawyers’ Forum, Calabar, June, 2017 Edition).

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