Akinwale Akintunde

A human rights group, Access to Justice, has faulted the recent appointment of three new judges to the Lagos State Judiciary, saying the appointment process failed to comply with the National Judicial Council (NJC) Guidelines of 2014 for the appointment of judicial officers.

Access to Justice disclosed this in Lagos on Monday at a press briefing addressed by its Executive Director, Mr. Joseph Otteh and the Deputy Director, Dr. Adenike Aiyedun.
Three judges, Justice Idowu Alakija (former Director of Public Prosecution, Lagos State Ministry of Justice), Justice Emmanuel Ogundare (former Chief Registrar, Lagos State High Court) and Justice Serifat Solebo (former Deputy Chief Registrar, Lagos High Court) respectively were on March 8, 2017 sworn in by Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode.

The group stated that while it has nothing against the newly sworn in judges or against their individual merit, it has strong concerns about their appointment process.
According to the human rights group, its fact-finding inquiry revealed that the procedure adopted by the state Judicial Service Commission fell short of the mandatory standards and failed substantially to follow the NJC judicial appointment guidelines of 2014.

“While Access to Justice has nothing against the newly sworn in judges or against their individual merit, we however, have strong concerns about whether the Lagos State Judicial Service Commission fully or even substantially complied with the NJC guidelines and procedural rules for the appointment of judicial officers of all superior courts in Nigeria.

“After a fact-finding inquiry, Access to Justice has reached the conclusion that the procedures adopted by the Lagos State Judicial Service Commission fell short of the mandatory standards, and did not substantially follow the NJC judicial appointment guidelines of 2014.

“Access to Justice conducted interviews with officials of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in the Ikeja, Lagos Island, Ikorodu and Badagry branches, as well as staff of the High Court. Our findings revealed that the appointments of the new High Court judges in Lagos State were not conducted in accordance with the provisions of NJC guidelines,” it stated.

According to the group, the state Chief Judge/Judicial Service Commission saddled with the responsibility of complying with the guidelines failed to adhere to the procedures by not publicising the available vacancies prior to the appointment of the new judges.

“Related to this, we did not find evidence that there was a letter written to the Chairmen of every branch of the NBA in the state, for the nomination of suitable candidates.

“The Lagos State Judiciary also failed to send a provisional list of applicants and nominees to the respective NBA branches for comments. Although at the Ikorodu branch of the NBA, we confirmed that a shortlist of nominees was sent with requests for comments and suggestions on the suitability and eligibility of the candidates. This was however, done a week before the judges were officially appointed suggesting that the notification was merely a formality and could not have altered the outcome,” Access to Justice stated.

The group therefore called on the NJC to investigate their claims that its guidelines were flouted in the recruitment process, while insisting on the observance of due diligence in future judicial appointments at both state and federal levels.

The right group also expressed concerns over the continuous willful disregard of the rule of law by the federal government.
Particularly, the group condemned continue detention of the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife who were arrested since 2015.