Legal icon, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) has advised the Federal and state governments to improve on the current salaries of judicial officers, especially judges, so as to guarantee commitment and fairness in the handling of cases.
Babalola gave the advice on Sunday in Ado Ekiti at the presentation of a book titled; “Testament of Judicial Pronouncements”, as part of activities to mark the retirement of Ekiti State Chief Judge, Justice Ayo Daramola.
It was reported that the lawyer also canvassed for stringent process of appointment for judges in order to get men and women of sound scholarship and moral integrity on the bench.
“Each time I see Judges’ cars break down on the road due to age of such cars, I feel sorry for the Judiciary. There are situations where some of them don’t even have cars.
“Worse still, unlike the Judges in those days who used to move around with their Police Orderlies into their gorgeous residences in the GRA’s, many Judicial Officers now live in rented houses in built-up areas and this is very risky.
“No successful Senior Advocate would abandon his lucrative practice to serve as a Judge unless we address the issue of remuneration of judges.
“In the past, Judges’ remuneration was at par with the remuneration of Judges in England.
“Today the salaries of Nigeria Judges when compared with the salaries of their counterparts in other countries are to say the least miserably low,” Babalola said.
According to him, the quality of the Judiciary will depend on the brilliance of the lawyers appearing before the courts.
The legal icon said that it was important to review the process for appointment of judges, stressing “in the past, appointments to the Bench were by invitation, only based on the competence and integrity of the lawyers appearing before the courts.
“It has been acknowledged that the best Judges are the seasoned, tested and competent legal practitioners.
“It was then an abomination to invite applications for the post of a Judge.
“In England, seasoned Queen’s Counsels, the equivalent of our Senior Advocates, are invited to the Bench. Unlike what obtained in the 60’s and 70’s when we had few Senior Lawyers, Nigeria can now boast of hundreds of seasoned Senior Advocates today.
“I therefore suggest that we should borrow a leaf from England by inviting eminent SANs to the Bench at High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court levels in order to improve the quality of the Judges in our courts.
“After all, the late Hon. Justice Taslim Olawale Elias (SAN), the late Hon. Justice Augustine Nnamani (SAN), and until recently, Hon Justice Safiya Babamasi Umar (SAN) were examples per excellence of what to expect when we appoint seasoned Senior Advocates to the Bench”.
On the state of Nigeria’s Judiciary today, he said government should find means of addressing the continued closure of the nation’s courts, saying allowing the present situation to drag further, portends danger for the country.
“Since I started practice in early 1960’s, I have never witnessed the closure of all the courts even for one day.
“it is common knowledge that continued closure of courts portends danger for smooth running of governance by other arms of government
“The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) has been on strike since and the courts have been shut down for months.
“As a result of the closure, the Police have not been able to charge any suspected criminal to court, while those who have cases in courts or those who want to file new cases are also affected.
“Of course, you can imagine the effects on the income of lawyers.
“It is a well-known fact that the Judiciary is the third arm of government after the Executive and the Legislature, and the situation can thus be likened to a human being whose ability to work depends on the arm, the legs and the eyes.
“If for any reason any of these three important parts of the human body is incapacitated, then the whole body is in trouble. With this scenario, Nigeria is certainly in crisis.
“The Executive and the Legislature should immediately ensure that the situation in the Judiciary is immediately resolved, or else, they are by their action, aiding the collapse of the country”, he said
Babalola also called on governments to quickly set in motion, workable processes that would end continued fluctuation of the Naira against Dollar, state of insecurity in in the country as well as the poverty level of an average Nigerian.
It was reported that Babalola launched the book with N2.5m, described the retiring Chief Judge as a fervent believer in the best practices of the Bar and the Bench.