By Adebisi Onanuga
The Open Bar Initiative (OBI) urged President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend the approval of some judges recommended for appointment to the Supreme Court.
The group in an April 30 letter entitled: "Petition against the names recommended by the National Judicial Council for appointment in the Superior Court of the Territory of the Federal Capital (FCT)" it claimed that 22 of the 33 judges recommended for approval by the president by the national judicial council had privileged and family relationships.
The group said its selection processes "violated the rules and procedures established by the NJC; it violated the High Court of the FCT (Number of Judges) Act 2003 and is full of negotiations with privileged judicial information that are in danger of transforming the judiciary. in an instrument to promote narrow personal interests and sponsorships. ”
The petition was signed by the co-organizers and a former advertising secretary of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Silas Onu and former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Dr. Chidi Odinkalu.
OBI defended a level playing field for judges looking to be appointed to the FHC bank.
He claimed that only 11 judges met the criteria set out in the NJC employment guidelines
The group said that the appointment of 22 judges did not meet existing standards and procedures for appointment and selection, as established by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
According to him, "Section 255 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), classified the qualification to become a judge in the Superior Court of the FCT as being a minimum qualification of 10 years as a lawyer:
"To allow him to do the job of selecting suitable candidates from the many who potentially meet this requirement, NJC has established rules for receiving requests / nominations, screening and selection."
He stated that Rule 4 of the NJC appointment procedure for judges provides in subheading 4 (i) (a) (b) and (c) that ”When considering candidates, the Judicial Service Commission / Committee will take into account the fact that judicial officers occupy high positions of state and occupy positions with enormous powers and authority. Consequently, the National Judicial Council:
(i) consider the following qualities as essential requirements for the selection of suitable candidates for the judicial post in any of Nigeria's top Registry Courts;
(a) Good character and reputation, diligence and hard work, honesty, integrity and good knowledge of the law and consistent adherence to professional ethics;
(b) Active and successful practice in the Bar, including satisfactory presentation of cases to the Court as a legal professional or in a private practice or as a lawyer in any public service;
- c) Satisfactory and consistent demonstration of solid and matured judgment (sic) in the office as general secretary or chief magistrate; …
“The implication of paragraphs“ b ”and“ c ”mentioned above is that only four classes of lawyers are qualified to apply and recommend the appointment as judges of a higher court and they are: legal professionals, legal professionals in the Public Service who are Legal Officers, Chief Registrar of the Court and Chief Magistrates.
"According to NJC's own regulations, only people who fall into the above four categories can be considered for appointment as judges. People outside these categories would not be qualified," he said.
The group accused the NJC of violating its own established 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 NJC criteria entered this list because of their connections and / or family affiliation. This failure to comply with clear and existing regulations alone should invalidate the entire list and process.
"We urge His Excellency to disregard this recommendation and insist on an objective transparent recruitment process that requires NJC to at least comply with its own selection regulations and procedures," the group insisted.
He claimed that many of the 22 candidates presented to the President for nomination entered the list only because they are related to serving senior members of the judiciary or close assistants and members of NJC.
OBI stated, for example, that of the 22 judges they listed are eligible to be appointed judges: “one is the daughter of a former Nigeria chief judge; one is the daughter of the immediate ex-president of the Court of Appeal; one is the daughter of a Supreme Court judge and daughter-in-law of a Court of Appeal judge; one is the sister of Justice President of Appeal, Akure Division, while the other is the sister of a NJC member (D.D. Dodo SAN) and also the wife of the president of the National Industrial Court, Judge Kanyip. "
OBI argued that the suggestion that judicial service in Nigeria is an inheritance passed on from parents to children is not supported by the constitution or any other instrument under Nigeria's laws.
The argument was that what happened on the issue of judges recommended for approval by the president "is manifestly an abuse of the high constitutional responsibility vested in those who must appoint judges for their appointment," he said.
"Sir. President Sir, having sworn to the world to defend and defend the constitution and the institutions established by it, we appeal to you, as guardian of our national values, to do what is right by your oath and to refuse this list.
"Therefore, we pray and beg you to reject this recommendation and request an objective, transparent selection exercise without conflicts of interest and undue influence or insider dealing of any kind," he said.