Supreme Court Justices Should Stay On Bench For Life – Afe Babalola
Frontline legal icon and founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, has proposed an urgent review of the country’s judicial system to extend the retirement age of Supreme Court Justices beyond the present 70 years on the Bench.
He proposed that Nigeria should take a cue from other jurisdictions where the appointment of Supreme Court Justices is a lifetime appointment with no age limit for them to retire.
According to a statement by ABUAD Director of Corporate Services, Tunde Olofintila, Chief Babalola spoke as chairman of a virtual book launch in honour of Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, who retired on March 22, 2021 when he clocked 70 and after 27 years as a jurist.
The lawyer and educationist also warned the country may continue heading down hill unless it rearranges how its affairs are administered.
Babalola traced the root of all of Nigeria’s major problems to the military’s abandonment of the 1963 Constitution in favour a defective 1999 Constitution.
The solution, he said, is to urgently restructure the country to make politics unattractive, cut down on cost of governance, make each state or region develop at its pace, develop its resources, provide employment and eradicate poverty.
According to him, Supreme Court Justices in much other judicature often times, stay on the bench “as long as they probably can.
‘’In fact, many die while in office. But for those who opt for retirement, the average age is 78.7years. The average retirement age has grown to a whopping 103 years.”
The lifetime tenure of Supreme Court Justices, in his view, will enable Nigeria to benefit from the wealth of wisdom, insight, experience, fairness and compassion of a jurist like Justice Rhodes-Vivour.
Babalola frowned at the present situation where strong and mentally alert Judicial Officers are eased out of the Bench on account of a constitutional retirement age of 70 when their services and experience are still most needed.
His words: “I want to seize this opportunity to plead that we should review our justice system particularly the age of retirement of Supreme Court Judges. Experience has shown that a person becomes wiser and more experienced as he advances in age.
“Under our judicial system today, Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour JSC (Rtd) is retiring at the young 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 78.7years. The average retirement age has grown a whooping 103 years.”
Enumerating Rhodes-Vivour’s “sterling qualities”, Babalola said: “I know Hon. Justice Rhodes Vivour (Rtd). I have seen him at work, I have interacted with him in the court.
‘’He is a genial, decent, and disciplined person. He is a judge with unquestionable integrity, character, industry and dignity. A professional to the core; the legal colossus is a fervent believer in the rule of law.
‘’The professional ways he conducts himself both at the Bar, on the Bench and outside the Bar and the Bench will ever remain fresh in our memory forever.
“As we proceed to launch three books in honour of Hon. Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour Jsc (Rtd), CFR, I have a personal question to ask him. The question is simple
‘’My respected Jurist, are you fulfilled as you bow out from the Supreme Court at 70 years? I know you answer: ‘I am fulfilled’.
“But if we ask lawyers to answer the question, the answer will be ‘No, he is not fulfilled’. The question is why is he not fulfilled? Because we believe that Justice Rhodes Vivour (rtd) is a very strong and able young man. He doesn’t look 70. We believe that he should remain on the Bench until he becomes Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“Hon. Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour spent 11 years as a High Court Judge, five years as a Justice of the Court of Appeal and 11 years as a Supreme Court Justice. He should be commended because throughout his 27 years on the Bench, he served without any blemish. More importantly and remarkably too, he was never absent from work for a single day either due to illness or any other reason.