Legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) has advocated that the retirement age for Supreme Court justices in Nigeria should be increased from 70 to 100.
He argued that empirical evidence has shown that such people get more experienced and wiser as they grow older.
Similarly, he noted that in most countries, an appointment to the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, and Nigeria should not be different.
Babalola made his submission on Wednesday at the virtual launch of books in honour of Bode Rhodes-Vivour, who recently retired from the supreme court at the constitutional age of 70.
“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 a whooping 103 years in other climes,” he said in a statement signed by Tunde Olofintila, director, corporate information, Afe Babalola University (ABUAD).
Babalola as part of his recommendations for judicial reform in Nigeria also argued that 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,” he said.
“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.”
Babalola who noted that Nigeria’s constitution is the biggest problem of the country, argued that the position of the chief justice of Nigeria (CJN) should not be based on promotion but strictly on merit while restructuring should be taken seriously.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
He added that Nigeria’s constitution is “the greatest problem” of the country and the only way Nigeria can change for the better “and pave way for the enhancement of a more united Nigeria is to restructure“.