Davidson Iriekpen writes that there have been enduring calls for withdrawal of the list of judges sent from the National Judicial Council to President Muhammadu Buhari for breaching the Federal Character principle

Never in the history of Nigeria has the appointment of judges and justices for the country’s federal courts attracted so much condemnations and rejection as it has done since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed power and since Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad became the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

While the country is still trying to cope with hullabaloo that followed the release of the list of 33 judges for appointment into the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court last December, another hue and cry is trailing the list of justices for the Court of Appeal sent to President Buhari for his approval by the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) and National Judicial Council.

Those against have contended that it offends the Federal Character Principle enshrined in Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution. They stated that some states did not either get any nomination or that some geopolitical zones were not adequately represented.

Information available to THISDAY revealed that the original list, which was compiled by the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, reflected Federal Character Principle but that it was later overturned.

The judges shortlisted for the appointment include: Justice Kadi Mohammed Danjuma (Niger State Sharia Court of Appeal); Justice Muhammad Ibrahim Sirajo (Plateau State High Court); Justice Abdul-Azeez Waziri (Federal High Court, from Adamawa State); Justice Yisuf Alhaji Bashir.

Others are: Justice Usman A. Musale (FCT High Court, from Yobe State); Justice Ibrahim Wakili Jauro (Yobe State High Court); Justice Abba Bello Mohammed (FCT High Court, from Kano State); Kadi Mohammed Lawal Omar (Katsina State Sharia Court of Appeal); Justice Bature Isah Gafai (Katsina State); Justice Danlami Zama Senchi (FCT High Court, from Kebbi State).

Equally on the list are: Justice Kadi Bello Ladan Raha (Kebbi State Sharia Court of Appeal); Justice Mohammed Lawal Abubakar (Sokoto State High Court); Justice Muslim Sule Hassan (Federal High Court, from Zamfara State); Junneth Ikechukwu Amadi (National Industrial Court, from Imo State); Justice Peter Oyinkenimiemi Affen (FCT High Court, from Bayelsa State); Justice Sybil Nwaka-Gbagi (Lagos High Court, from Delta State); Justice Olasumbo Goodluck (FCT High Court, from Lagos State); Justice Adebukunola Banjoko (FCT High Court, from Ogun State); Justice Olabode Adegbehingbe (Ondo State High Court); and Justice Bola Samuel Ademola (Ondo State High Court).

Since the list of judges became public, it has generated a lot of controversy with a cross section of groups calling on President Buhari, the FJSC and NJC led by the CJN, Justice Muhammad to seek for its rejection and cancellation.

First to raise its voice against the nominations is Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) which asked the NJC to withdraw the list. The SMBLF in a statement jointly signed by Mr. Yinka Odumakin (South-west), Chief Guy Ikoku (South-east), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-south), and Dr. Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), expressed shock over nominated candidates, saying that all the candidates picked from the North excluded Christians.

The statement further advised the council return and retain the merit list submitted to it by Justice Dongban-Mensem. It noted that of the 20 candidates on the preferred list, all the candidates picked from the North excluded Christians, alleging that three Khadis were on board for a court that needs experts in various areas of law, including customary law. According to the leaders, the list of the PCA was said to have reflected all such needs but was whimsically overturned at the FJSC under the guise of Federal Character.

“It is part of the constitutional responsibilities of the PCA to scrutinise candidates and present a list of competent and qualified candidates to FJSC for consideration and onward transmission to the NJC for appointment. But for the nepotism that is celebrated in Nigeria today, what is the basis of not having a Christian on such list from entire northern Nigeria? We cannot accept that a multi-ethnic and religious country is being treated this way. We want them to call for the original list prepared by the President of the Court of Appeal to avoid lawsuit on the matter,” it said.

Also, a civil society group last month sent a petition to the CJN, Justice Muhammad, seeking the cancellation of the appointment. The group, Global Integrity Crusade Network (GICN), in a protest letter dated January 25, 2021, and addressed to Justice Muhammad, claimed that the process of the appointment lacked transparency and due process. In the petition signed by its Compliance Officer, Esther Iorhuna, stated that at all times material to its existence, the FJSC must be seen to be playing the role of appointment, promotion and discipline of judicial staff in an effective and trustworthy manner to ensure fair and proper administration of justice to the Nigerian populace.

They, therefore, called on the Chairman of FJSC, NJC, Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Director-General of Department of State Services (DSS) as well as other relevant stakeholders in the justice sector to rise to the occasion by cancelling the entire process leading to the recent emergence of some certain persons as Justices of the Court of Appeal.

The petition read in part: “Our Global Integrity Crusade Network (GICN) is aggrieved to note that the Federal Judicial Service Commission (simply called the FJSC or Commission) under your leadership has decided to recklessly desecrate the judiciary, which should be the last hope of the common man. Suffice it to state that Nigerians, particularly those who followed events at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court last year, are yet to recover from the shocks as a result of shabby appointment of judges. We recall that it took the timely intervention of the president before the anomaly created by the said appointment could be remedied.

“Today, we are again faced with a worse situation where the FJSC has decided to conduct another appointment exercise for Justices of the Court of Appeal, which many observers describe as fraudulent, obscure, biased and apparent violation of due process.”

According to the letter, “The enormity of the irregularities have attracted attention and controversy by the public going by report in many national dailies and many reliable online media. As a law-centric organisation, we strongly believe that the judiciary should lead the efforts of redeeming Nigeria from the manacles of corruption, poverty, insecurity and hopelessness that have become insignia by which our country was identified in the international community before fate catapulted President Buhari into the cockpit of power on May 29, 2015.

“Unfortunately, what we see in the past few months in our judiciary can best be described as a complete deviation from the issues that unite Nigerians to those that are meant to split the country into pieces for selfish political interests. We are convinced that the recent appointment of Justices of the Court of Appeal, if not reversed as a matter of urgency, will continue to offend the Federal Character Principle enshrined in Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Let it be on record that we shall resist any attempt by narcissist elements within and outside the judiciary to assail and defile our sacrosanct constitution.”

Equally not pleased with list of judges are lawyers from the Ogun State Bar Forum who in their petition to Justice Muhammad advised that the nominations be dropped. In a letter signed by four Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Chairmen of the forum, J. T. Ogunniyi, Ayodele, A. Omoniyi , Olabisi Abdul-Azeez and Mr. Felix Adetoro of NBA Ota Branch, NBA Ilaro Branch, NBA Ijebu Ode Branch and NBA Sagamu Branch respectively, they all noted that while some other states have two names – one on the Preferred List and another on the Reserve List, the reverse is the case with Ogun State.

The lawyers maintained that the last time a judge from Ogun State Judiciary benefited from the exercise of elevation to the Court of Appeal was in 2008 and urged the CJN to take a second look and remedy the situation in the interest of justice and fair play.

Their full complaint titled: ‘Re: Appointment of Appeal Court Justices – Protest Against Grave Injustice to Ogun State Judiciary in The Current Exercise’ read: “We members of the Ogun State Bar Forum register our sincere appreciation to your lordship for doing so much in ensuring that we have adequate personnel in terms of appointment of Justices into our appellate courts for effective disposal of the backlog of cases.

“However, our attention has been drawn to the recent publication of the list of selected candidates for interview in respect of appointment as Honourable Justices of the Court of Appeal and we deem it necessary to make this representation to your esteemed office.

“We have carefully scrutinised the names on the list as well as the judiciary formation from which they were selected and we discovered that of the 20 candidates on the preferred list and 20 candidates on the reserved list none comes from the Ogun State Judiciary. We as critical stakeholders, write to express our displeasure to your Lordship, against what we consider an act of injustice done to the Ogun State Judiciary in the on-going exercise of elevation of Judges to the Court of Appeal.

“The very last time that a Judge from Ogun State Judiciary benefited from the exercise of elevation to the Court of Appeal was in 2008, when Honourable Justice Lokulo-Sodipe was elevated and appointed as a Justice of the Court of Appeal. It is imperative to stress further that as at today, the only other indigene of Ogun State on the Court of Appeal Bench right now, was appointed from outside the Ogun State Bench.

“It follows that since 2009, no judge from the Ogun State Judiciary has been elevated to the Court of Appeal. Yet, we make bold to say, most respectfully, that we have some of the most hardworking and upright Judges in this country on the Ogun State Bench.

In the current/on-going exercise, again, no judge from the Ogun State Judiciary has been included in the list sent to the NJC for consideration. Yet, we are aware that there is a nominee from the Ogun State Judiciary with impeccable credentials and very high recommendations.

“To our shock, we found, from the list that is in the public domain that the Judge whose name appears on the list sent to the NJC, as representing Ogun State, is again from outside the Ogun State Judiciary.

“While it is conceded that any indigene of the state serving in another jurisdiction and qualified, is entitled to be considered, we submit, very respectfully, that it is most unfair and very demoralising, for judges in the Ogun State Judiciary to be consistently overlooked in preference for those from other jurisdictions when it is not the case that those in Ogun State have been found l in character, learning or experience but are in fact, able and deserving in every sense.”

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