The Nigerian judiciary is an arm of government made up of eight hierarchy of courts, lawyers and judges. It is the role of the judiciary to interpret the law, settle disputes between the executive and legislative arms of government through its checks and balances, and also acts as a defense for the common man. For all this to be possible, the judiciary has to be independent and impartial and this has been dully defined in the 1999 constitution where it stated how the appointment and removal of judges must be carried out.
To become a judge in Nigeria isn’t an easy process, as it takes a lot of dedication and hard work to reach this stage in the legal system. A judge is a public officer appointed to preside over court proceedings, be it alone or as a panel of fellow judges. The judge is expected to be impartial in delivering judgement and should be intelligent and of a sound mind in presiding over court cases.
Before one can be appointed a judge of the Federal High court in Nigeria, he or she must first be a qualified lawyer, practicing for over 10 years as a legal practitioner before being appointed by the Nigerian President upon the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC). It is the NJC that is saddled with the responsibility of recommending the approval or removal of judges from judicial posts in Nigeria.
EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS FOR BEING A JUDGE IN NIGERIA
The qualifications you would need to be a judge in Nigeria is the same as that of a lawyer. You would need to earn a bachelor’s degree in Law from any recognized university, which would be for a period of five years. After getting your degree, you proceed to one of Nigeria’s law schools to undergo more training in criminal law and any other law course for a duration of three years. After which you earn a Juris Doctor (JD) degree and then be called to the bar before you begin your career as a judicial personnel in the country.
HOW TO BECOME A JUDGE IN NIGERIA
The following are steps or requirements to becoming a judge in Nigeria today.
STEP 1: EARN A BACHELOR’S DEGREE IN LAW
The first step to become a judge is to earn a Bachelor’s degree at any top university accredited to study law in Nigeria. There are various pre-law courses that are offered in Nigerian universities such as political science, philosophy, criminal justice, common law, and other related law courses. It is important that you have a B.Sc. in Law so as to stand out from the rest with your degree. You also need to be conversant in subjects like English language, public speaking, psychology and sociology. The reason why it is compulsory to have a degree in law is so as to prepare you for your application into the law school which is important in your legal career in becoming a judge.
STEP 2: DO INTERNSHIP TO GATHER EXPERIENCE
Most judicial personnel in Nigeria agree that it is advisable to grasp and engage in internship opportunities at law firms. This is because, its through internships that an aspiring judge can have the necessary experience and knowledge to aid one’s legal career. With the help of internship programs, you network with other legal professionals and learn from others in the same field as you are. Also. you can have a mentor that would also guide you in your career to being a judge as expertise and experience are two skills you would need if you must advance your career in the legal world.
STEP 3: APPLY TO AN ACCREDITED NIGERIAN LAW SCHOOL
The Nigerian law school is an academic institution that offers legal education with practical training for aspiring legal practitioners in the country. This school was set up by the Nigerian government to ensure that judges and lawyers are giving sound legal training and are able to understand the ethics of the legal profession. Most judicial personnel are lecturers in this school, so expect the best from them.
REQUIREMENTS TO GAIN ADMISSION INTO THE NIGERIAN LAW SCHOOL
The Nigerian law school admits certain number of student into its one-year law school training. There are some requirements you have to fulfil before you are admitted. First, you must have completed a law undergraduate degree or its equivalent in any recognized Nigerian university. Some courses offered at the Nigerian law school include Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation,, Property Law Practice, Law in Practice, Ethics, etc.
STEP 4: PASS THE BAR EXAM
You would have to take the bar exam at the Nigerian law school and also excel well in it. While the Nigerian law school offers practical methods that exposes you on how the Nigerian legal system works, you are still required to complete two periods of externships; this is carried out at a law firm and also in a court. After this, you will be required to pass the bar examination which would allow you to be inducted into the roll of legal practitioners called to bar and a certificate of the call to bar presented to you as proof of your involvement at the law school.
STEP 5: CREATE AN OUTSTANDING RESUME
It is at stage that you must input all your achievements in the legal sector if you want to become a Nigerian judge. Do this after you have completed your program at the Nigerian law school and your NYSC. It is with your curriculum vitae (CV) that you will give detailed information about yourself, your experiences, skills and any other trait that stands you out among other job applicants in the labour market. A well constructed resume can leave a positive impression in the hearts of your potential employers. Leave no stone unturned when listing and detailing about your roles in various organisation you have worked for in the past.
STEP 6: BECOME A PRACTICING LICENSED LAWYER
While the state government doesn’t require that magistrate judges first become lawyers before becoming judges, the same can’t be said for federal judges. You must have to be a licensed lawyer with a JD degree from an accredited university that offers law in Nigeria. To get licensed, you must have to pass the state’s legal bar exam to practice law in such place. At the various courts hierarchy in Nigeria, a person can be qualified for recommendation and appointment as a judge if he or she has practiced as a lawyer for more than ten to fifteen years.
Judges appointments, promotion and removal happens after spending years trying many cases in their legal careers. You might ask why trying cases is very important if you really want to become a judge in Nigeria? The answer is in the experience of courtroom proceedings and the connections to other legal cases. The more you keep trying and handling top cases, you might be lucky to be shortlisted or considered for appointment to any judicial positions in the country.
STEP 7: TRY TO WORK AS A JUDICIAL CLERK
One overlooked option that most law students who wish to advance their legal careers as judges in Nigeria is becoming a judicial clerk. A clerk is a legal professional who assists and aids an appointed judge in the discharge of their duties. It is the role of a clerk to offer legal counsel to the public in a court ruling while the judge makes a judgment in a case. The reason why you might want to consider being a clerk is to aid your network in meeting other judges and advance your experience in the legal profession. It might surprise you that the humble position as a clerk can increases one’s chances in being a judge in the future.
STEP 8: GAIN POLITICAL SUPPORT
While it is true that the office of judges are often an appointed position, attorneys, lawyers and other legal professionals know that it is futile to being a judge in Nigeria if you don’t have the political support of a party or even a big wig in the political atmosphere. While we advise that merit should be the basic requirement to appoint judges, we often see that this is not the case with Nigeria as judicial positions are given based on who and not what you know.
JUDGES SALARY STRUCTURE IN NIGERIA (2021)
How much judges earn in Nigeria is dependent on the experience level and hierarchy of court he or she is appointed to. For the records, the Chief Justice of Nigeria earns a yearly salary of ₦3.36 million aside his allowances. Officials like justices of the Supreme Court, including the president of the Court of Appeal earn over ₦2.47 million as annual salary while the judges of the Federal High Court and State High Courts all earn a salary of ₦1.80 million annually.
HOW JUDGES ARE APPOINTED IN NIGERIA
Below we give a summary on how judges are selected in the various hierarchy of courts in Nigeria, including their requirements.
SUPREME COURT: APPOINTMENT OF JUSTICES
Since the supreme court is the apex court in Nigeria, it is headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria. He and other fellow justices of the supreme court are appointed by the Nigerian President upon the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and approval by the senate. They are all required to have 15 years experience and all must be qualified legal practitioners. Justices of the apex court are addressed as “My Lord”
APPEAL COURT: APPOINTMENT OF JUSTICES
After the supreme court, the appeal court is the second highest court in the land and the Justices of the appeal court are equally appointed by the Nigerian President upon recommendation from the National Judicial Council (NJC). It is headed by the President of the Court of Appeal. The requirement for being an appeal court justice is by being a qualified legal practitioner for a minimum of 12 years. Justices in the court of appeal are addresses as “My Lord”
FEDERAL HIGH COURT: APPOINTMENT OF JUDGES
The judges of the Federal High Court are addressed as “My Lord” and are also appointed by the Nigerian President upon the recommendation of the National Judicial Council. One is required to have practiced for over 10 years before he or she is qualified for appointment as a Federal High Court judge. This court is headed by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
STATE HIGH COURT: APPOINTMENT OF JUDGES
Unlike the above courts, judges of all state high courts in Nigeria are appointed by the various state governors of the federal republic of Nigeria. The requirement to be considered for appointment as a state high court judge is 10 years experience. The way the Judges of the High Courts of all the different states of the federation are addressed is “My Lord” or “Your Honor”
APPOINTMENT OF THE JUDGE OF THE CUSTOMARY COURT OF APPEAL
Judges of the Customary Court of Appeal are addressed as “Your Honor”. They are dully appointed by either the Nigerian President or the state governor depending on the level. He or she must have vast knowledge of the customary law and must be qualified for over 10 years legal post-call experience. They are also recommended by the NJC.
From the above, you can observe that to become a judge isn’t as easy as people think. It takes more than academics, as you have to be well experienced and knowledgeable with the right connection before you can even be considered for an appointment as a judge in Nigeria today.