THE BENCH: A FIESTA OF FRENCH FRIES FOR FAMILIES AND ALLIES

It is commonplace for parents to desire that their children take after them, particularly with respect to their trade or profession. Several reasons account for this desire. It would be significantly easier to mentor the child in the pursuit of said profession. Parents see themselves as pacesetters for their offspring, and arguably, children are regarded as the surest successors to keep their parents’ businesses floating after they’re long gone. However, this is not always the case. 

Children may contribute to the legacy of their parents, but that only happens when they take up a similar path. There’s a joy that parents derive from watching their children take after them in the same line of work. A great sense of fulfillment flows like a stream of pleasure running through the brain.

Studying the legal profession in Nigeria, we have seen many lawyers whose parents were also lawyers, and they strive to supercede the achievements of their progenitors. This also obtains in the Judiciary. Some judges train their children to ascend to the Bench just as they did. We have a good number of them in the Nigerian Judiciary. 

Given the pedigree of their parents, it is generally thought that they find it easier when it comes to consideration for appointment. This is partly also because the children are “expected” to close any vacuum left behind by their parents. If they’re qualified, the coast is clear. For instance, is it not a beautiful thing that renowned Jurist, Hon. Justice Mary Peter-Odili, JSC gave us the gift of her daughter, Hon. Justice Njideka Nwosu-Iheme? Should we not be grateful that the Late Hon. Justice Niki Tobi, JSC (of blessed memory) is still pontificating through the lips of his son? How about Hon. Justice Idris, JCA, one of the finest of his ilk, coming as a blessing from the loins of the Late Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Idris Kutigi? Former Chief Judges of Lagos State, Hon. Justice Ayotunde Phillips, C. J. and Hon. Justice Oluwafunmilayo Olajumoke Atilade, C. J. are sisters, and specifically, the children of the Late Justice James Oladipo Williams of Lagos. The list is endless. 

Some of our jurists were not so lucky in trying to replicate their skill set through their progenies. On top of the list is the Late Hon. Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, JSC, a renowned Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria who, by inexplicable natural design, gave birth to the controversial Charly Boy, born Charles Chukwuemeka Oputa. Make no mistake about it. Charly Boy is not a boy, but a man. The “Area Fada” is a Father too. He is also known to be an activist for good governance. The Late Justice Oputa must be proud of him. 

Ordinarily, this shouldn’t pose much problems so long as the children of “nobodies” are given opportunities to prove that they also deserve a seat at the table.

Undoubtedly, tribalism and nepotism have eaten deep into the Nigerian fabric. Many top agencies of government have the children of highly placed individuals and politicians in their employment. This development has degenerated from secret arrangements to brazen favouritism. Sometime in 2016, we learnt of the secret employment scheme at the Central Bank of Nigeria, with the children of influential persons topping the list. Recently, it was rumoured that the appointment of certain persons as judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, was shrouded in secrecy.

The chances that people with humble beginnings get into the door appear to be greatly narrowed. The risk of the situation is that merit may be sacrificed, leaving us with inefficient service delivery with all its attendant consequences. Even when people with privileged backgrounds are just as qualified as those who had to grind their way to the top, the absence of a level-playing field is problematic, depending on how objectively you view it.

Of course, the Bench now appears to be a fiesta of French fries for families and allies. But as the saying goes, those whose palm-kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble, and diligent. 



Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has worked with a number of startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.

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