Human rights activist and delegate to the ongoing National Conference, Mike Ozekhome, Tuesday, kicked against the existing judicial structure in the country where Supreme Court was only one, saying the development was greatly contributing to the slow dispensation of justice.
He attributed the high number of inmates in Nigerian prisons as well as slow treatment of cases in courts to concentration of the Supreme Court at the centre. He believed such practice must stop in line with modern practices.
Presenting a position paper before the National Conference Committee on Law, Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters Tuesday, in Abuja, Mr Ozekhome urged members of the committee to fashion out a new constitution for the country, adding that states should be allowed to have hierarchy of law courts, from the lowest to the highest as it is with the federal government.
The legal luminary stated that the present Supreme Court had enough than it can chew and so, must be devolved to states if the country needed quick dispensation of justice.
He also said there was urgent need for the country to consider increasing the number of justices in the country even as he canvassed that judges be allowed to voluntarily retire from service or at most, pegging retirement ceiling at 80 years against the existing 70 years of age.
“Retirement age for judges must be made voluntary or the ceiling be put at 80 against the present 70 years, “he insisted.
Ozhekome added that the offices of Attorney-General and the Minister of Justice be separated, saying under the current arrangement, Attorneys-General had become more of a politicians.
He urged the committee to recommend that the outcome of the conference be made to replace the existing constitution which he said, was foisted on Nigerians by colonial masters and military dictatorship.
Chief Ozhokome also urged the committee to recommend that the outcome of the conference be subjected to a referendum, saying with this, the president could initiate an executive bill to the National Assemble for a new constitution for the country.
Another member of the committee, Justice Abdullahi Mustapha, suggested that to make election tribunals effective, if there were needs to retain them, there must be a provision where applications for stay of proceedings be disallowed until dispensation of cases.
“We need specialist judges and not specialized courts. If we allow the continuous establishment of specialized court, then there will be these un-ending requests for establishment of specialized courts in almost every area of life,” he reasoned.
“Lets’ make it a constitutional provision that any electoral offences tribunal established, application for stay of proceeding should not be entertained by such tribunals until the tribunal delivers its judgment.
“This is because the stay of proceedings being brought by the politicians even when the judgment is about to be delivered, always create unnecessary delay in delivering the judgment, “he said.
Also speaking, Justice Adamu Bello, who supported the restructuring of the judiciary, said any matter or petitions against state judges be made to go through the State Judicial Service and not the National Judicial Commission as it is being currently practiced and suggested that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, be stripped of his or her roles of presiding over the affairs of the National Judicial Commission in the proposed constitution.