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Lawyers Petition Buhari, HoR, Senate over FCT High Court appointment

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A group known as the Open Bar Initiative (OBI),  a voluntary initiative comprising hundreds of lawyers, has petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari, the House of Representatives and the Senate over the proposed appointment of judges into the Federal Capital Territory High Court.

In a letter titled “Petition against the National Judicial Council’s recommended names for appointment into the Federal Capital Territory High Court”, OBI argued that if the proposed 33 judges are approved for appointment, then the bench will overshoot by nearly double.

OBI further reasoned that the selection process violated the National Judicial Council’s laid down rules and procedures; violated High Court of the FCT (Number of Judges) Act, 2003 and is fraught with judicial insider dealing which could turn the judiciary into an instrument for advancing narrow personal interests and patronage.

The letter, which was addressed to President Buhari and copied to the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on FCT Judiciary, House of Representatives and the Chairman, Senate Committee on FCT Judiciary, dated 30th April, 2020, is attached below:

We are Nigerian citizens and legal practitioners and we write the auspices of the Open Bar Initiative (OBI) – a voluntary initiative comprising hundreds of lawyers committed to the reform of the legal profession and administration of justice Nigeria.

On 26 April, 2020, the National Judicial Council (NJC) released, amongst others, 33 names recommended to your good office for appointment into high constitutional office as judges in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court. At present, there are 35 judges on the Bench of the FCT High Court, if these appointments are approved, the number of judges on the FCT High Court will be increased by nearly double or, specifically, by 94.28%.

With considerable reluctance, we feel compelled as citizens and duty bound as legal practitioners of this great nation, to oppose the names recommended to your good office for appointment as judges into the FCT High Court and our reasons are detailed below. In summary, the selection process violated the National Judicial Council’s laid down rules and procedures; violated High Court of the FCT (Number of Judges) Act, 2003 and is fraught with judicial insider dealing which risks turning the judiciary into an instrument for advancing narrow personal interests and patronage.

  1. VIOLATION OF APPLICABLE NJC RULES FOR THE SELECTION AND APPOINTMENT OF SUPERIOR COURT JUDGES:

To begin with, at least 22 of the 33 candidates presented to Mr. President for appointment as judges failed to comply with the existing standards and procedures for nomination and selection as laid down by the National Judicial Council (NJC).

Section 255 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As amended), pegged qualification for becoming a judge in the High Court of the FCT to be a minimum of 10 years qualification as a legal practitioner. To enable it to carry out the work of selecting suitable candidates from the many who potentially meet this requirement, the NJC has laid down rules for the receipt of applications/nominations, screening and selection. The relevant rule is as follows:

RULE 4 OF THE NJC APPOINTMENT OF JUDGES PROCEDURE PROVIDES IN SUB-RULE 4 (i) (a) (b) and (c) that:

“4. In considering the candidates, Judicial Service Commission/Committee shall take into account the fact that judicial Officers hold high office of State and occupy an office carrying enormous powers and authority. Accordingly, the National Judicial Council shall –

  • regard the following qualities as essential requirements for the selection of suitable candidates for the judicial office in any of the superior Courts of Record in Nigeria;

 Good character and reputation, diligence and hard work, honesty, integrity and sound knowledge of law and consistent adherence to professional ethics;

 As may be applicable:

  1. Active successful practice at the Bar, including satisfactory presentation of cases in Court as a Legal Practitioner either in private practice or as a Legal Officer in any Public Service;

 Satisfactory and consistent display of sound and matured (sic) judgment in the office as a Chief Registrar or Chief Magistrate…”

The implication of paragraphs “b” and “c” quoted above, is that only four classes of lawyers are qualified to apply and be recommended to be appointed as Judges of a High Court and they are:

  1. Legal Practitioners in Private Practice
  2. Legal Practitioners in Public Service who are Legal Officers.
  3. Chief Registrar of Court
  4. Chief Magistrates.

In accordance with the NJC’s own regulations, only persons falling within the above four categories can be considered for appointment as judges. Persons falling outside these categories would be unqualified. Below is the list of persons that the NJC decided in its wisdom to nominate:

S/N NAME AGE EMPLOYEE/RANK STATE OF ORIGIN QUALIFICATION
1 MUHAMMED MUSTAPHA ADAMU 57 YEARS JUDICIARY/CHIEF REGISTRAR FCT HIGH COURT KEBBI QUALIFIED.
2 MADUGU MOHAMMED ALHAJI 54 YEARS JUDICIARY/DCR(ADMIN) FCT HIGH COURT OYO NOT QUALIFIED.
3 OGBEIDE JOSEPHINE ENOBIE 47 YEARS JUDICIARY/DCR(MGT) FCT HIGH COURT EDO NOT QUALIFIED
4 AGUNLOYE KAYODE 53 YEARS JUDICIARY/DCR(PROBATE) FCT HIGH COURT ONDO NOT QUALIFIED
5 ENENCHE ELEOJO 46 YEARS JUDICIARY/ASST. DIRECTOR FCT HIGH COURT KOGI NOT QUALIFIED.

 

But, Personal Assistant to the Chief Judge, FCT High Court.

6 NWABULU NGOZIKA CHINEZE 57 YEARS JUDICIARY/DIRECTOR, FCT HIGH COURT ANAMBRA NOT QUALIFIED.
7 ABUBAKAR BABASHANI 50 YEARS JUDICIARY/DCR FCT HIGH COURT BORNO NOT QUALIFIED
8 AMINU MUHAMMED ABDULLAHI 46 YEARS JUDICIARY/SNR. MAGISTRATE, FCT HIGH COURT KANO NOT QUALIFIED
9 NWECHEONWU CHINYERE ELEWE 45 YEARS JUDICIARY/SNR. MAGISTRATE, FCT HIGH COURT RIVERS NOT QUALIFIED
10 IBRAHIM MOHAMMED 40 YEARS JUDICIARY/SNR. MAGISTRATE, FCT HIGH COURT JIGAWA NOT QUALIFIED
11 SADIA MU’AZU MAYANA 49 YEARS JUDICIARY/SNR. MAGISTRATE, FCT HIGH COURT ZAMFARA NOT QUALIFIED
12 MIMI ANNE KATSINA-ALU 48 YEARS JUDICIARY/SNR. MAGISTRATE, FCT HIGH COURT BENUE NOT QUALIFIED.

BUT DAUGHTER OF LATE JUSTICE KATSINA ALU, FORMER CHIEF JUSTICE OF NIGERIA.

13 KANYIP ROSEMARY INDINYA 48 YEARS JUDICIARY/SNR. MAGISTRATE, FCT HIGH COURT TARABA NOT QUALIFIED. BUT WIFE OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE OF NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT AND SISTER OF A MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL JUDICIAL COUNCIL.
14 ALIYU YUNUSA SHAFA 56 YEARS JUDICIARY/SNR. MAGISTRATE, FCT HIGH COURT NASARAWA NOT QUALIFIED
15 MOHAMMED ZUBAIRU 48 YEARS JUDICIARY/SNR. MAGISTRATE, FCT HIGH COURT KADUNA NOT QUALIFIED
16 BINTA DOGONYARO 45 YEARS JUDICIARY/SNR. MAGISTRATE, FCT HIGH COURT JIGAWA

 

NOW 2 FROM THIS STATE.

NOT QUALIFIED
17 OBA CHRISTOPHER OPEYEMI 50 YEARS JUDICIARY/SNR. MAGISTRATE, FCT HIGH COURT EKITI NOT QUALIFIED
18 JADESOLA ADEYEMI AJAYI 53 YEARS JUDICIARY/CHIEF MAGISTRATE, LAGOS STATE OGUN QUALIFIED.
19 ABUBAKAR HUSSEINI MUSA 54 YEARS JUDICIARY/CHIEF MAGISTRATE 1, ADAMAWA STATE ADAMAWA QUALIFIED.
20 OLUYEMISI I. ADELAJA 55 YEARS JUDICIARY/CHIEF MAGISTRATE, LAGOS STATE OSUN QUALIFIED.
21 MOHAMMED S. IDRIS 56 YEARS JUDICIARY/CHIEF MAGISTRATE 1, KANO STATE KANO.

 

2 FROM THIS STATE.

QUALIFIED.
22 FRANCES ERHUVWU MESSIRI 44 YEARS JUDICIARY/CHIEF MAGISTRATE 2, DELTA STATE DELTA QUALIFIED
23 FATIMA ABUBAKAR ALIYU 35 YEARS JUDICIARY/STUDIES FELLOW, NATIONAL JUDICIAL INSTITUTE GOMBE NOT QUALIFIED.

BUT DAUGHTER OF IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT OF THE COURT OF APPEAL, JUSTICE BULKACHUWA.

24 JUDE OGOR ONWUEGBUZIE 55 YEARS PRIVATE PRACTITIONER DELTA.

 

2 FROM THIS STATE NOW.

QUALIFIED
25 HAMZA MU’AZU 50 YEARS JUDICIARY/CHIEF REGISTRAR, NIGER STATE NIGER QUALIFIED

 

26 EDWARD OKPE 52 YEARS PRIVATE PRACTITIONER BENUE.

 

2 FROM THIS STATE

QUALIFIED
27 AGASHIEZE CYPRIAN ODINAKA 55 YEARS DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FCTA ENUGU NOT QUALIFIED.

BUT SISTER TO PRESIDING JUSTICE, COURT OF APPEAL AKURE DIVISION.

28 FASHOLA AKEEM ADEBOWALE 50 YEARS JUDICIARY/CHIEF MAGISTRATE 2, LAGOS STATE LAGOS QUALIFIED
29 ALIYU HALILU AHMED 47 YEARS DEPUTY CHIEF REGISTRAR, ADAMAWA STATE ADAMAWA.

 

2 FROM THIS STATE NOW

NOT QUALIFIED
30 HASSAN MARYAM ALIYU 42 YEARS CHIEF MAGISTRATES 2, KEBBI STATE KEBBI.

 

2 FROM THIS STATE NOW.

QUALIFIED
31 HAFSAT ABBA-ALIYU 42 YEARS JUDICIARY/MAGISTRATE 1, FCT. YOBE NOT QUALIFIED
32 OLUFOLA OLUFOLASHADE OSHIN       WAS NOT EVEN ONE OF THE SHORTLISTED CANDIDATES ALL THROUGH THE PROCESS. THIS NAME WAS SMUGGLED INTO THE FINAL LIST AND WE HAVE NO FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT WHO THIS PERSON IS, BUT WE UNDERSTAND THAT A TOP SUPREME COURT JUSTICE SMUGGLED THE NAME.
33 NJIDEKA K. NWOSU-IHEME 36 YEARS JUDICIARY/MAGISTARE GRADE 1, FCT RIVERS.

 

2 FROM THIS STATE NOW

NOT QUALIFIED.

 

But Daughter of Justice Mary Odili of the Nigerian Supreme Court and Daughter-in-law to Justice Nwosu-Iheme of the Court of Appeal.

 

Of the 33 names recommended for appointment to Mr. President, only 11 met the criteria set out in the employment guideline of the National Judicial Council. In other words, the NJC chose to violate its own laid down criteria and regulations for the appointment of judges. There is evidence to suggest that most of these other 22 nominees who manifestly did not meet the NJC’s criteria got into this list because of their connections and/or family affiliation. This failure to comply with clear and existing regulations in and of itself should invalidate the entire list and process. We urge your Excellency to disregard this recommendation and insist on a transparent objective recruitment process that obliges the NJC to at least comply with its own regulations and procedures for selection.

  1. JUDICIAL INSIDER DEALING:

As we have pointed out above, many of the 22 candidates presented to Mr. President for appointment made the list only because they are related to serving senior members of the judiciary or close aids and members of the NJC. By way of illustration, of the 22, for instance:

  • One is the daughter of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria;
  • One is the daughter of the immediate past President of the Court of Appeal
  • One is the daughter of a Justice of the Supreme Court and daughter-in-law of a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
  • One is the sister of the Presiding Justice of Appeal, Akure Division
  • One is the sister of a member of the NJC (D.D. Dodo SAN) and also wife of the President of the National Industrial Court, Justice Kanyip.

The suggestion, Mr. President, that judicial service in Nigeria is an inheritance transmitted from parents to children is not supported by the Constitution or any other instrument under Nigerian laws. This is manifestly an abuse of the high constitutional responsibility invested in those who must nominate judges for your appointment.

One case that illustrates the height of this abuse is the surreptitious inclusion of one OLUFOLA OLUFOLASHADE OSHIN in the names recommended for appointment. OLUFOLA OLUFOLASHADE OSHIN did not participate in the processes leading up to selection, interview and or obtaining recommendation from a Chief Judge of a State and she was not on the final shortlist either. But having not at any point participated in the process of selection, she was inserted into the final list transmitted to Mr. President at the instigation of some senior judicial officers believed to be top members of the Supreme Court. This is clearly unjustifiable and unfair to the candidates who participated faithfully in the process.

Mr. President Sir, having sworn to the world to defend and uphold the constitution and institutions established under it, we appeal to you as the custodian of our national values to do right by your oath and decline this list. Therefore, we pray and plead with you to reject this recommendation and order a transparently objective selection exercise devoid of conflict of interest and undue influence or insider dealing of any kind.

We are not against the children of judges applying, but we insist that even they, must compete on a level playing field with all others and they cannot be exempt from existing rules which govern the selection and appointment of judges. The NJC loses its claim to manage the judicial if it cannot apply its own rules fairly.

While thanking you for your kind and prompt attention to our petition, kindly accept, Mr. President, assurances of our highest esteem.

Yours Sincerely,

SILAS Joseph Onu, Esq.                                                                                Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Ph.D.
      Co-convener                                                                                                               Co-convener

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