As the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mariam Aloma-Mukhtar continues with her purge of the Nigerian judiciary, she has issued another riot act to the Bench that any judge that does not meet the minimum requirement of four judgements in a year would lose his job.
She said this last Friday while receiving the Performance Evaluation report on judges from 2008 – 2011, a seven-compilation by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, even as she confirmed some media reports that she had placed a ban on indiscriminate travelling by judges.
She added that the National Judicial Council would no longer weed out judges based on just the outcomes of petitions, but also on its performance evaluation reports.
Aloma-Mukhtar said that it was incredulous to observe that some judges could not even deliver up to two judgments in a quarter.
According to her, “We are now thinking of looking at the performance evaluation of the judges for the purpose of discipline. If a judge cannot deliver three to four judgments in a year, there is no use keeping him on the bench other than to be shown his or her way out.”
She added that the extent of the rot was not known to her until she directed all judges to seek for permission through their heads of court before travelling abroad.
“The Nigerian Bar Association has also been complaining about the attitudes of judges to work these days. Many will leave their work and travel for days abroad. This is why I insisted they must obtain approval before travelling abroad. Until this directive, I never thought things were all that bad, because some of the judges will be seeking for permission to travel abroad, while the courts were in session, despite the six weeks holiday they are entitled to in a year,” she disclosed.
The CJN went further to state that the judges were expected to commence proceeding by 9.00 a.m., but there were instances when many of them would not resume work until 11 am or 12 noon while the litigants, their witnesses and lawyers keep waiting in the courts.
“These litigants are human beings. They go to court sometimes with their witnesses and lawyers and were told that the judges were not around. Sometimes after coming to court without seeing the judges, they abandoned their cases in the court. It is not fair.
“These are part of the reasons the NJC undertakes performance evaluation from time to time both at the trial and appellate courts to determine productivity of the judges and their courts in the states and the Federal Capital Territory. The Supreme Court is not exempted.
“The NIALS’ performance evaluation could not have come at a better time because it will go a long way to compliment the ones carried out by NJC performance evaluation committee,” she added
While presenting the seven volumes of the performance report, the project director who doubles as the head of NIALS, Professor Epiphany Azinge said the work would go a long way to compliment the CJN’s present drive to cleanse the judiciary.
However, he urged the CJN to put necessary machinery in place to standardise process of performance evaluation nationwide.
Meanwhile, over 10 judges have reportedly tendered notice of voluntarily retirement in the last one week as the judiciary leadership deepened the cleansing of the system.
Although they all reportedly claimed to so do on health grounds, some are said to be among the 36 judges on the sanction radar of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The most prominent among them is the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Lawal Gummi, who resigned last Monday despite having two more years in office to take office as a second-class emir in his native Zamfara State.
Despite being a member of the council, he had been under probe since the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mariam Aloma-Mukhtar came into office.
A top system source told this correspondent that judges started considering their further stay in service when the CJN gave bite to her anti-corruption crusade by firing a couple of them and another 21 had been listed for sanction consideration when the council meets on June 23.
In the aftermath of Gummi’s exit, it was learnt that those who knew they could have issues with the council reportedly decided to toe his path though Gummi did not claim ill-health in his retirement notice.
Those who tendered theirs after him reportedly said their health could no longer carry the rigours of the job.
“After mama (CJN) issued the order on indiscriminate travels, those judges who always travel frequently on medical grounds knew they just had to go before they are thrown out.
“Many of them knew their health could not support the stress of the job, yet they stay put, delaying cases,” the source disclosed.
It was learnt that the CJN ordered all judges to submit their current medical records especially those who applied to travel for treatment, with many having serious infirmity being exposed.
The source added that “since they knew the fate awaiting them, they decided to leave before being sent packing in about a month’s time.”
Those who tendered the notice are said to be of the Court of Appeal, Federal High Court and High Court. No justice of Supreme Court was involved.
On those being probed and rushing to voluntarily retire, the source disclosed that retiring voluntarily would not stop the council from sanctioning them.
The source used retired Justice Adeniran of Oyo State as an example of council’s way of punishing those who left before the consideration of their cases.
While Adeniran voluntarily retired, the council converted it to compulsorily retirement following his alleged indictment for unethical conduct.
He subsequently sued the council.
“Judges whose petitions against them had been listed for consideration by the council are also said to be in panic, though reportedly helpless, “since no one can approach mama (CJN) to beg. Others are sitting up and judges now think twice before they give judgements and orders. Even the one (names withheld) that used to carry himself as a tin-god before because he is a retired CJ now behaves where he is serving now,” the source disclosed.