The presidency released a statement on Friday saying this:
“President Muhammadu Buhari has commenced the process of ensuring that persons, Judges and Justices recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) for appointment into various Courts of Record in the instant are fit and proper, and are not under any disability to function as Judicial Officers.
“The President’s position is in furtherance of the executive powers vested in him under Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution, which allows him as the appointing authority to exercise same reasonably, taking all relevant factors into consideration.
“Nigerians are assured that President Buhari will issue his approval or otherwise as soon as the process of the background verification is completed.”
Okay, what could possibly be wrong with the president – who has sworn to rid the nation of corruption – vetting judges before approving appointments? Apart from the presidency’s liberal interpretation of Section 5 of the constitution to include vetting of judges, there are a few red flags with Buhari’s decision:
What criteria would be used to vet the judges? Whatever the criteria are, they should be made public. Who are the people that would carry out the vetting process/background verification? They should be publicly identified. In fact, a useful solution is for Nigeria’s national assembly to adopt the lead of the Kenyan assembly which in 2011 passed the “Vetting of Judges and Magistrates Bill.”
In that country there is a board in charge of the vetting, made up of six Kenyans and three non-Kenyan citizens resident in the country. The members of the board are nominated by the president and approved by the national assembly. The guidelines adopted by the board in vetting the judges is publicly known as well. That way there is less room for bias and manipulation.
Would he accept the details of the background checks?
In Nigeria, we have a case where the acting chairman of the EFCC failed background checks carried out on him by the Department of State Services (DSS) based on which the senate has rejected his nomination twice. Did Pres. Buhari accept it? No. So it’s one thing to say background checks would be carried out, but would the president be willing to abide by the findings in cases where he has personal attachment to his nominees?
To be fair Pres. Buhari’s records in terms of appointing “fit and proper” people is suspect. One wonders whether with his antecedents, he can be trusted to carry out a proper nomination and checking process.
Fact: Pres. Buhari spent several months supposedly carrying out checks on those to be appointed as ministers in the federal cabinet. His final list left much to be desired with some of his nominees having serious question marks around their previous conduct.
Fact: Pres. Buhari spent almost three years coming up with list of appointees into federal boards and parastatals. His end result comprised of at least half a dozen names of deceased persons, not to mention those who rejected the appointments because they were not consulted or those who have huge question marks about their conduct in previous positions.
Fact: Pres. Buhari has been criticised for making what Nigerians consider to be very sectional appointments among those closest to him. For instance, the composition of his National Security Council comprises of people of mostly one ethnic group. His checks did not let him recognise the Federal Character Principle, unfortunately.
So while it would be great to have “fit and proper” judges. These nibbling issues need to be addressed.