Another Group Condemns Petition Against NJC Over Judges’ Appointment

Another Group Condemns Petition Against NJC Over Judges’ Appointment

The recent call by a group of lawyers named Open Bar Initiative (OBI) on President Muhammadu Buhari, to reject the list of nominees of the High Court Judges of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), submitted by the National Judicial Council (NJC), has again been condemned by another concerned group, which described the petition as mischievous, unmeritorious and baseless.

OBI in had in a petition dated April 30, 2020, and signed by the duo of Silas Joseph Onu and Dr. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, the group’s Co-convener, called on President Buhari and leadership of the National Assembly, to reject the list on the ground that NJC failed to comply with its laid down rules and procedures and High Court of the FCT Act, 2003. 

OBI particularly alleged that some of the nominees contained in the list submitted to the President by NJC, did not part take at any level of the nomination processes. 

OBI also alleged that the list of nominees contained the names of children and relations of both serving and retired justices.  

Condemning the petition against NJC, 
Nigerian Advocates for Equity and Justice (NAEJ) stated in a rejoinder to the petition to President Buhari, dated May 8, 2020, that the OBI’s petition as self-serving.

NAEJ led by Barrister Azeez Taiwo Hassan, has therefore called on President Buhari not to reject the nominees list but to proceed and approve the recommendations of NJC by appointing more Judges into the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory. 

The appointing more judges, NAEJ said will strengthen the Court, lessen the burden on the present Judges of the Court and ensure speedy administration of Justice in the Federal Capital Territory.

Parts of the NAEJ’s rejoinder titled: “Re: petition against the national judicial council’s recommended names for appointment into the federal capital territory high court” reads: “our attention has been drawn to a Petition dated 6th May, 2020 in respect of the above subject-matter written by a Group which styled itself as “Open Bar Initiative”. In the said Petition, the Petitioners have accused the National Judicial Council of nominating unqualified persons to your Excellency for appointment as Judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.

“Also as Lawyers and Stakeholders in the Administration of Justice in Nigeria, we have read and digested the contents of the said Petition and we have established that the Petition is mischievous, full of lies and informed by some undisclosed sinister motives best known to the Writers themselves. Therefore, we have deemed it expedient to set the record straight with a view to assisting Your Excellency in taking an informed and fact-based decision on the subject-matter and to as well correct the wrong impressions that the unfortunate petition might have created in the minds of the general Public.

“The Authors of the Petition have alleged that 17 out of the 33 Nominees for Judicial Office in the High Court of FCT are not qualified for the said appointments. On our part, we are of the firm view that the Petitioners’ hasty and baseless categorisation and or inclusion of some of these eminently qualified Nominees on their list is unjust, parochial, misleading and very unfortunate especially when it comes from highly respected Nigerians like Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Ph.D.

“We must also say from the outset, that we are not surprised to see the name of another very senior and respected Legal Practitioner, Mr Silas Joseph Onu as a Co- Author of the Petition, reason being that we are aware of the fact that he has equally been a serial applicant for couple of years for the same position of a Judge and we use this opportunity to wish him success in his subsequent applications.

“As rightly pointed out by the Petitioners, for a Lawyer to be qualified for appointment as a judge of the High Court of FCT or any High Court of any of the States of the Federation, such person, must apart from being qualified to practice as a Legal Practitioner in Nigeria for a period not less than 10 years Post-Call, satisfy certain conditions/criteria which include; good character and reputation, diligence and hardwork, honesty, integrity and sound knowledge of law and consistent adherence to professional ethics in addition to either of the following; 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; or Satisfactory and consistent display of sound and matured judgment in the office as a Chief Registrar or Chief Magistrate as the case may be.

“While the above as stated by the Petitioners represent the requirements for appointment, we are surprised to see some of the recommended names being listed or tagged as unqualified and with a higher sense of responsibility, we say (with due respect to the Authors of the Petition) that their conclusion is misconceived and misleading and that it is morally and professionally expected of highly respected Legal Practitioners like Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu and others to conduct proper investigation and verify their facts before going public on certain matters of national importance such as appointment of Judges. We dare say that only malice and ulterior motives could have blinded the petitioners to facts that are readily available in the public domain.

 “For instance, from reliable and verifiable sources, we have discovered that Mr. Agunloye Kayode, Column N0.4 on the Table inside the Petition was a long serving Chief Magistrate in Ondo State before he transferred his service to the FCT Judiciary many years ago. Mr. Agunloye Kayode is presently a Deputy Chief Registrar (Probate), High Court of FCT and yet tagged “unqualified” by the Petitioners while his Colleague in the same FCT Judiciary, Ogbeide Josephine Enobe who was also a Chief Magistrate (according to the Petitioners) at column N0. 3 on the Table and presently Deputy Chief Registrar (MGT) is said to be qualified simply because she was a “Chief Magistrate”. Your Excellency, the petition is lacking in circumspection to say the least and we most humbly recommend that same be treated as malicious, immaterial and aimed at frustrating the process of appointment of Judges by the National Judicial Council.

“Your Excellency sir, the above is not the only reason why the petition must be treated as tainted and lacking in credibility. The Petition is equally unreliable and deeply flawed on the ground that our Fact-finding-Team has also reliably reported that Mr. Madugu Mohammed Alhaji listed as N0.2 on the Table in the Petition and also tagged “unqualified or not qualified” by the Petitioners because he is (according to the Petitioners (“just a DCR (ADMIN) FCT High Court”). We wish to inform Your Excellency that Mr. Madugu Mohammed Alhaji was not only a “Chief Magistrate” for close to a decade in Oyo State Judiciary but in addition thereto, had been Deputy Chief Registrar in charge of Litigations, probate, Enforcement, etc of the High Court of FCT long before his appointment as DCR Administration couple of years ago. He is a Masters Degree Holder (LLM) with Ph.D. in view.

“Mr. Madugu Mohammed Alhaji, like his other Co-nominees listed and tagged as qualified at Column N0s: 3, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 28 and 30 in the Petition is also qualified just like Agunloye Kayode at Column 4 because they were also Chief Magistrates before their present appointments and to suggest or conclude that they are not qualified as done by the Petitioners will not only be false, erroneous and misleading but also fallacious. Mr. President sir, the question is; “if those listed by the Petitioners as respectively qualified for appointment as Judges of the High Court of FCT at Column 3, 18, 19, 20, 21, 28 and 30 are so because they were once “Chief Magistrates”, why not Mr. Madugu Mohammed Alhaji and Agunloye Kayode who were also Chief Magistrates before and others amongst the 17 tagged “not qualified” but whom subsequent findings may also reveal are qualified?

“In other words, why is Madugu, Agunloye and some others on the Petitioners’ list whom further findings will show that they are qualified and rightly nominated by the National Judicial Council deemed not qualified if those referred to above are qualified because they have served as Chief Magistrates before?

“It is however our conclusion based on our investigations and findings on the Petition under reference, that the allegations in the said Petition are manifestly untrue as it affects Madugu Mohammed Alhaji and Agunloye Kayode. This is because apart from being Legal Practitioners called to the Bar more than 20 years ago, the duo have served as Chief Magistrates in their respective States of Oyo and Ondo for several years before transferring their services to the FCT Judiciary. Thus, the duo are eminently qualified for appointment as Judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory having satisfied both the Constitutional and NJC requirements for appointment into the sacred Judicial Office as Judges. This may well be the same for others that have been unfortunately tagged “not qualified” by the Petitioners.

“Based on the aforesaid, we hereby express our disappointment that Legal Practitioners, particularly, someone of the calibre of Chidi Odinkalu, a former Head of the National Human Rights Commission, would peddle unverified information about his professional and learned colleagues all in a bid to serve parochial interests and tarnish the reputation of the eminent Nominees and the National Judicial Council. 

“As for the question of number of Judges for the High Court of FCT, we sincerely and most humbly urge the Petitioners to conduct a thorough search to see that the number has since been increased by the National Assembly and assented to even to a number more than the existing Judges and the 33 newly recommended Nominees put together.

“In the light of the foregoing, we urge your Excellency to disregard the unmeritorious Petition by the self-serving Group called ‘Open Bar Initiative’ and proceed to approve the recommendations of NJC by appointing more Judges into the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory. We believe the appointment of more Judges into the said Court will strengthen the Court, lessen the burden on the present Judges of the Court and ensure speedy administration of Justice in the Federal Capital Territory”.