Who Wants to Elect Judges & Justices?

 Part of the result of the invasion of the homes of justices of the Supreme Court by the DSS is the question of the immunity of political office holders. After that invasion, we have been reminded as quickly as possible that judges and justices are ordinary mortals like the rest of us. My understanding of what makes judges and justices mortal is the argument that only the president and governors are presumed immortal and therefore immune from arrest or invasion whilst in office. At present we have a vice president who is a SAN, and a mortal but who is immune from arrest, prosecution or invasion. Therefore, the case for a process or procedure which promotes judges from being mere mortals to the realm of immortality would be for judges and justices to pick up forms with INEC and contest their benches.  After all, aren’t these learned people who make pronouncement that only God can reverse? Aren’t people at the Bar and Bench just as or even more qualified to hold public office as some current political office holders? The people who have immunity from prosecution, arrest and invasion are human beings as well like the rest of us, aren’t they?

Positions judges and justices occupy to make pronouncements expose them to great personal and physical risks. Some of the cases they adjudicate upon are some of the most sensitive and involve the greatest heists of public funds. The justices of the Supreme Court whose homes were invaded form part of the super structure of the apparatus of governance. They interpret laws and arbitrate when there are disputes between the law-making bodies and the organ of government responsible for delivering the dividends of democracy to the people. The judiciary is that arm of government which may not be of the people or by the people but is seen to be for the people. If that is so and if the members of parliament and the executive arms of government get elected to their positions why are we not electing judges and justices to the bench? Should the judiciary be the only arm of government whose practitioners ought to be above board and exhibit the highest levels modesty in their personal and public demeanour?

Judges at all levels in the state of Texas are elected like politicians. The rational is that if Texans are all equal before the law and if a lawyers get elected to serve as presidents, vice president, governors and lawmakers, why must they be appointed by political office holders who sometimes expect the judge to be a mere appurtenance of government? It is in that frame of mind that Texans elect their judges.  To run for election in the state of Texas, a lawyer is supposed to have just about a million dollars. But investigations revealed that from 1980 and 1986, third parties were making contributions to lawyers contesting political offices. Most of them as well, even had cases pending before the judges whose election they were contributing to. That in itself raises issues and questions of the propriety of the impartiality of a judge funded by an interested party.  A judge who has been sponsored by a political party cannot be impartial if a case of fraud involving the party which sponsored him is brought before him. See the Nigerian case: in 2007 after some ex-governors and ex-ministers were arraigned by the EFCC for alleged offences ranging from money-laundering, embezzlement of public funds and criminal misappropriation, the cases are still in court. Some of the politicians crossed the carpet to the party in power then and crossed back when the pendulum swayed. Other lawyers are said to be unable to prosecute these former governors and ministers because they come from same ethnic and religious background.

So what the state of Texas has done is pass the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act, JCF, of 1995. The JCF limits individual contributions to $5,000 and $30,000 from law firms. And just after the invasion of the homes of the homes of several judges by the DSS, some people are campaigning that we begin to elect our judges like Texas does.  But I have been told by a very senior member of the Nigeria bar association that Nigeria is not ripe enough to copy the state of Texas. I agree with him absolutely and I will tell you why. Sometimes ago, I witnessed first-hand the behind the scenes electoral processes of an NBA election. Most of the lawyers exhibited the same ethnic, religious and parochial sentiments of politicians. They sought godfathers within the political class and were funded by interested parties.  But by far the reason I agree with this senior member of the Bar, that Nigeria is not yet ready to elect judges to the Bench is the fact that while speaking with some of these lawyers, the  common motive for election  to positions within the  Bar is for the enrichment of their pockets.  Politics is said to be a second-rate form of human activity. Justices and judges, I believe should steer clear.

Written by
MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku
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