New Chief Justice for Nigeria
At exactly 6.24pm yesterday, the Senate approved the nomination of Justice Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), thus setting the stage for him to take over from the current occupant of the position, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, who retires on December 31 this year. The Upper House also approved the nomination of Justice Isa Ayo Salami as President of the Court of Appeal. Salami is, by the approval of his nomination, set to take over in full capacity as his predecessor, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, has since proceeded on retirement, except that he now has to be sworn in by the CJN.
Highlights of the screening of both justices in the Committee of the Whole Senate, which started about 3 pm and ended at 6.18 pm, included their differences on the retirement age of judges, which is currently put at 70, and the time-frame for disposing of election petitions before swearing-in the winner. While Katsina-Alu suggested that “a few more years added to the retirement age (of 70) will do no harm to anyone,” Salami cried blue murder, saying that increasing the retirement age might impair judges' sound judgments. Salami said: “They should leave the retirement age at 70 because the standard of living here does not support increase in retirement age as we have in the developed countries where the medical facilities and health care delivery are of high standard. “Here, judges would be overstretched and may become mere specimens if the age is increased beyond the current 70 year retirement age.” Both also offered a different perspective on the issue of time frame for disposing of election petitions before the swearing-in of the winners of the elections. While Katsina-Alu noted that lingering petitions have become a distressing feature of the nation's justice administration and would be addressed if politicians learn to accept defeat, Salami suggested the insertion of a provision in the constitution to the effect that if a petition goes on appeal, the winner should not be allowed to take office until the matter is disposed of. According to Katsina-Alu, “My personal view is that we should finish every case arising from election before those who are going to take over are sworn in as is done in many countries.
” He argued that it is a better choice to take some time before swearing-in, pointing out “We have cases since 2007 regarding elections that we are still dealing with and I think it is a distressing feature in the administration of justice in this country. “This is not the fault of the court. If you have a party who brings in 100 witnesses, what will you do? You have to listen to them and at the end of the day in the judgment, they believe it is right. Perhaps when we learn to accept defeat, it will help us.” Salami, in response to a question on the issue, said: “I will suggest a provision be made for swearing-in and if the matter goes on appeal, he (winner) should not be allowed to take office until the matter is disposed of.
“This is because I do not see the possibility of all the election petitions being determined before the swearing in. It will not be out of place to have staggered swearing-in.” Meanwhile, Katsina-Alu has supported the imperative of speedy and fair trials of cases in courts and has promised to encourage the practice. He added: “I will also advocate financial independence, especially as it concerns the state judiciary. The Constitution, I think Section 121(3), states that all the funds –capital or recurrent- should be handed over to the heads of courts. “We are having problems in the states. The Executives in the states are so unwilling to adhere strictly to that and that creates problem and it creates delays in trials and it brings about delays in trying to build adequate accommodation for judges and even the equipment in the courts. “So, perhaps, we will have to work together with the National Assembly to try and get the states to give us a break.
They should give us what is our due so that we can run the judiciary as efficiently as we can.” Answering a question on the appointment of chair and members of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), whether it should be done by the NJC or the Presidency, Katsina-Alu said: “As of now, the law creating INEC says that it is the President that should appoint the chairman and the members. “You are representatives; you are our own representatives. If you think that is wrong, you can effect changes here. Change the law. As to whether it should be NJC, it does not really matter that much when you appoint a person of integrity; he will do the job as faithfully and correctly as possible.
” Katsina-Alu said in response to another question that the issue of shifting the burden of proof to the electoral body would encourage frivolous petitions by the person who loses the election. He stated that “If you do not have enough evidence to back your petition, you should wait for another three to four years to contest.” He also said, in response to the issue of swearing in a winner after his or her victory at the court to a fresh term, regardless of whether the person first declared had exhausted three years of the mandate, that it was morally wrong for the real winner to spend only on year. According to him, “It is morally wrong for the real winner to spend one year after the other person had spent three years, which is why his or her tenure has to run afresh.” He added: “I do not know what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they brought in Section 180(2) that the tenure begins to run when he is sworn in.
He should have his four years from the day he is sworn in.” On whether there should be constitutional court, he said that such court would help the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, stressing, “But then if you create it, the result will be the same because it will still have backlog of cases.” Katsina-Alu also said that he did not think that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt practices Commission (ICPC) “need special courts to deal with corruption cases.” According to him, “All we need do is to approach the Chief Judges of the States and the FCT and they will put aside a court that will treat these matters and this will solve this matter. Just one judge will handle the matters.” He also used the forum to justify the decisions of the Supreme Court to recognise Rotimi Amaechi as the winner of the 2007 governorship election in Rivers State, saying that he was the candidate in the eyes of the law. He explained that Amaechi (who was substituted by the PDP on the ground of alleged indictment) contested and won the primaries whereas Celestine Omehia did not contest the primaries.