Group alleges ‘insider dealings’ as NJC send 33 names to Pres. Buhari for appointment as FCT judges

Open Bar Initiative (OBI) a voluntary initiative made up Nigerian citizens and legal practitioners committed to the reform of the legal profession and administration of justice in Nigeria has petitioned the President, Muhammadu Buhari, over perceived irregularities and alleged insider dealings in the recommendation of 33 legal practitioners for appointment as judges in the Federal Capital Territory.

In the petition dated April 30, 2020, signed by Silas Joseph Onu, Esq. and  Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Ph.D., as co-conveners, the group said the list “is manifestly an abuse of the high constitutional responsibility invested in those who must nominate judges for your appointment.”

It stated further that among other allegations of failure to meet the basic qualifications for appointment as judges into the judiciary in Nigeria as stipulated in the constitution, “many of the 22 candidates presented to Mr. President for appointments made the list only because they are related to serving senior members of the judiciary or close aids and members of the NJC.”  

In the petition, a copy of which was obtained by National Infinity, it stated of the 22 candidates that failed the meet the basic requirement for such appointment,

  • 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.

Open Bar Initiative insisted that by the manner of the appointment, “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.”

Read the full text of the petition below:

The President,                                                                                                       30th April, 2020.  

Federal Republic of Nigeria,

Presidential Villa, Three Arms Zone,                                                                          

Abuja.

Your Excellency,

PETITION AGAINST THE NATIONAL JUDICIAL COUNCIL’S RECOMMENDED NAMES FOR APPOINTMENT INTO THE FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY HIGH COURT.

We are and we write the auspices of the.

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;
  1. 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:

  • 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:

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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