By Ariwodola Idowu
Senior advocate Chief Afe Babalola on Wednesday proposed almost a lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices, setting retirement age at 100.
The justices at present retire at 70, although recently some judges proposed 75 years.
Babalola, who is also founder of ABUAD in Ado Ekiti, made the call at the virtual launch of books in honour of Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, who retired last month from the Supreme Court.
Rhodes-Vivour retired at 70.
Babalola, who will be 92 years in October, canvassed for a review of the retirement age of judges, especially those of the Supreme Court from the current 70 to 100 or more, if life service is not possible.
”There is urgent need for reform of our judicial system. This is with particular regards to age of judges, most especially those at the Supreme Court.
” Experience has shown that a person becomes wiser and more experienced as he advances in age.
” Under our judicial system today, Justice Rhodes-Vivour is retiring at the age of 70 when he has not shown any sign of physical weakness and when Nigeria would have benefitted more from his wealth of wisdom, insight and experience.
” A brief look at other countries shows that appointment to the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment.
” There is no age limit for a justice of the Supreme Court to retire. Often times, they stay as long as they probably can.
” In fact, many die while in office. But those who opt for retirement, the average age is 78 years. The average retirement age has grown to a whopping 103 years in other climes”.
The founder and Chancellor of Afe Babalola University, also advocated that retiring judges should be allowed to practice law.
” Even, if Judges are not allowed to return to full practice, there should be a measure of participation in law practice that will ensure their relevance in the nation’s development of law.
” I suggest that Nigeria should adopt the quasi-restrictive style, which is in operation in the U.S. whereby a sitting judge may recuse himself in the case of conflict of interest or allow retiring judges to prepare and draft pleadings, motions and appellate briefs”, he said.
On appointment of judges, he said the position of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, was important that it should not be based on promotion but strictly on merit.
” I know from experience that the best judges are those who have been in active litigation, who have interacted with clients, who have drafted claims and pleadings and who have addressed legal issues at different level of the courts.
” This is why in other climes, judges are chosen from seasoned legal practitioners. I recall the case of late Justice Teslim Olawale Elias, SAN.
”He was appointed as CJN and President, International Court of Justice. He was Attorney-General of the Federation when he was a Professor at the University of Lagos and was invited to the Supreme Court where he eventually became the CJN.
”I have always been an advocate of a new constitution to correct the ills inherent in the 1999 Constitution bequeathed to Nigerians by the Military and christened a people’s constitution.
” We truly need restructuring in this country today and that will assist us in many diverse ways as we as enable us have a truly federal constitution as a result of which there would be a change in the mode of election and the type of people we would elect to govern us”, Babalola said.
He said it would also ensure that the country has part-time legislators, reduce the huge salaries currently being earned by legislators in favour of sitting allowances as well as reduce cost of governance and ensure elections are run at cheaper rates while women representation in governance will be higher.
” Our constitution is the greatest problem of Nigeria, the operation of the constitution is expensive with its attendant over-concentration of power at the centre, thereby rendering the States and Local Governments totally impotent unlike what obtained under the Parliamentary Constitutions of 1960 and 1963.
”I say with emphasis that the only change that can change the country for the better and pave way for the enhancement of a more united Nigeria is to restructure
”It is that change that will make politics less attractive, make each state to develop at its own pace and do away with all shades and shapes of criminality, guarantee employment, eradicate poverty and make individuals to become true Nigerians.“, he said.
He described Justice Rhodes-Vivour, as an incorruptible , genial, decent, and disciplined person as well as a Judge with unquestionable integrity, character, industry and dignity who others should emulate.