By Hameed Ajibola Jimoh, Esq.
I have observed for some periods now that out of 100% of Nigerian lawyers, one might find only about 10-20% of lawyers interested and or passionate about becoming a Judge.
This some lawyers are not bothered about, with due respect to them! We lawyers have felt much more comfortable with the current trend in the judiciary where some if not the majority of those being nominated or shortlisted are found to be those persons from among the power that be’s in the judiciary or just as found in the politics whereby connection with one top authority or the other is required in order to be appointed or elected in politics. It is my humble view that any person qualified to be appointed to the esteemed office of a judge does not need to know any one or be connected in any way with any one before such person can be shortlisted and or appointed into a judicial office.
Such appointment should be very transparent, just and meritorious. Furthermore, this paper is of the firm view that the above admonition is in view that should an unjust person be appointed into a judicial office, then, the revered judiciary is ridiculed and profaned and would lead to just lawyers being frustrated and the public losing hope of getting justice in the court of law and thereby engaging in jungle justice. This would definitely lead to chaos and destruction of the human society, hence this topic.
First and foremost, the word ‘just’ is defined by the Merriam Webster online Dictionary among other meanings as ‘acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good: righteous.’. This is the meaning that is within the context of this paper. In other words, what this paper submits is that the judiciary without a ‘just’ or ‘moral’ or ‘righteous’ judge renders a ‘just’ or ‘moral’ or ‘righteous’ lawyer (in the same manner like a just judge) frustrated.
That is why I am (many of the times) surprised to find a great number of Nigerian lawyers not discussing about ambition of being a judge (though personal to them)! Much more so, the judicial office is a very delicate and sensitive office! Some lawyers might not be interested because of the restrictive lifestyle of a judicial officer and as a result, would not wish to sacrifice their personal enjoyments for just (mere) the judicial office. Also, it is understandable that the Rule 6 of the Rules of Professional Conducts for Legal Practitioners, 2007-herein after referred to as RPC, provides thus
‘(1) A lawyer shall not accept employment as an advocate in any matter upon the merits of which he had previously acted in a judicial capacity.
(2) A lawyer having once held public office or having been in the public employment shall not after his retirement accept employment in connection with a matter in respect of which he had previously acted in a judicial capacity or on the merit of which he had advised or dealt with in such office or employment.
(3) A judicial officer who has retired shall not practice as an advocate in any Court of law or judicial tribunal in Nigeria.
(4) A judicial officer who has retired shall not sign pleading in any court.
(5) A judicial officer who has retired may continue to use the word ‘Justice’ as part of his name.’.
It is observed herein that the above Rule 6 of RPC might also be a form of factor discouraging some lawyers from having any ambition for the judicial office while some lawyers might also fear that they cannot afford to face God Almighty on the Day of Judgment for accountability over the judicial office.
The RPC in my humble view is concerned about a retired judicial officer because once a lawyer is appointed as a judicial officer, he ceases to be a member of the bar who is under the control or subject to the RPC but such a judicial officer shall from his appointment be subject to the Code of Conducts made by the National Judicial Council (as he is now a member of the bench) but when such judicial officer retires or resigns his judicial office, he then becomes a member of the bar and then bound by the RPC. Also, having regard to the National Judicial Council’s Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2016, there are somehow stringent rules for any judicial officer which some lawyers might find very impossible for them to conform with.
Notwithstanding all the above referred factors likely responsible for why some lawyers might not wish to become a judge, I am of the view, with due respect, that lawyers that are just, moral and righteous should not avoid the bench or the judicial office.
It would serve the interest of justice for a situation whereby just or moral or righteous judges are on the bench as judicial officers and for just or moral or righteous lawyers to also represent clients in suits before just or moral or righteous judges in courts! This is because, no matter how a just or moral or righteous lawyer might be good, diligent and or efficient or interested in seeking manifest justice in his client’s case or in his own personal case where he is interested in a case, he is likely not to get justice and therefore become frustrated about the judicial and or court’s system.
It is also observed that lawyers have kept to show dissatisfaction towards some conditions or situations in the Nigerian judicial and or court’s system which they complain about (several times) as being unfortunate but the rather most unfortunate situation is a situation where ‘bad judges’ are allowed to prevail over judicial office and to preside over a case to dispense justice (a situation which is oxymoronic) in my humble view, with due respect.
So, this paper is a call on all just or moral or righteous lawyers who are either young or seniors to aspire for the judicial office in order to serve the interest of justice. This is also a way of saying that judicial office is a service to God and to humanity! I would also advise lawyers or authorities who would not be able to aspire the judicial office to nominate those among lawyers who according to their assessment and or fair and honest considerations are just or moral or righteous and competent and who have passion for the judicial office as judges of superior courts (the superior courts are the context of this paper). A judge must also be empowered to act within his judicial office without fear or favour.
I had rejected the ambition to become a judge of a high court too until now when I had thought and considered the above thoughts and then resolved to sacrifice whatever it takes me in my sacrifice (though, righteously), to aspire for the revered judicial office as a judge of a high court in order to be a symbol of justice and righteous judicial officer as at when I am ten (10) years as a lawyer by which time, I shall be qualified for such office with the support and guidance of God Almighty.
I also know that this is in line with God’s intention! I could remember that God Almighty had made me to undergo a lot of challenges in my life (even up till present) and had taught me some religious, moral, just and or righteous characters with unimaginable potentials as well as talents that I know would be very useful for me on the bench as a judicial officer. I have always been made to see myself as one of God’s Deputies (who propagate His course for justice) on earth to dispense justice, even though the peak of justice is that of God Almighty. I understand this better and I hold God much more responsible and capable of ensuring my rise to the judicial office as at when due.
Furthermore, God Himself had located an office for me where I practise as a private legal practitioner till date (since about five (5) years a go). Then, I placed some names to register my law office with the Corporate Affairs Commission. Of the names that I suggested, it was the one that was least expected by me that was approved ‘THE VICEGERENT LEGAL CONSULT’ (which means ‘The Deputy of God’) but I later found joy in the name! How I came about that name still remains a surprise to me till date. I understand that one would only do his part and leave the rest to God Almighty.
My interest in ensuring that justice prevails at all cost made me to take human rights activism as a major path in the private legal practice. I believe that this interest can still be satisfied if I become a Judge of a High Court. There are indeed two paths or careers for me at the moment and in the legal profession- that is either I decide to be a Judge or to continue to thread the path of private practice and enjoy the privilege of becoming a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)! Until then, I shall continue to put in my best efforts and continue to pray for God’s guidance in all my endeavours!
Finally, it is my advice that just or moral or righteous lawyers must rise up to the call for rescuing justice in the hands of those who would like to perpetrate injustice and thereby wish to profane the revered judicial office! As for me and my judicial ambition, I say ‘with God (only) are all things possible!’ and this ambition for me, is a matter already concluded by God Almighty, if He wills that I be, I shall be when the time comes.
The call to service in the judicial office shall come to me as at when God decides (perhaps soonest!) just as He did for me when the call to His service in Saudi-Arabia came to me even when I least expected! I am still three (3) years left to being qualified for the judicial office (as I am seven (7) years as a lawyer now) by His Grace.