A group of lawyers, under the aegis of the Open Bar Initiative (OBI), has asked President Muhammadu Buhari not to approve the list of 33 candidates recommended to him by the National Judicial Council (NJC) on April 26, for appointment to the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
OBI described itself as an association of hundreds of lawyers in Nigeria dedicated to the goal of defending the integrity of the legal profession and advancing the high constitutional principle of open, impartial, and fair justice.
In a petition to the president, OBI said at least 17 of the lawyers recommended for appointment were not qualified.
The group also submitted similar petitions to the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.
The petitioners said: “On 23 July 2019, the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, Hon. Justice I.U. Bello, issued a notice Ref. FCT/JSC/SEC/ 107/217 opening recruitment for 15 judges. Now, at the conclusion of the process, they purport
to have recruited 33 judges. How?”
According to the lawyers, the NJC’s recommendation to Buhari for the appointment of the judges was flawed and should not be allowed to stand because “the selection process violated the National Judicial Council’s laid-down rules and procedures and is fraught with judicial insider dealing, which risks turning the judiciary into an instrument for advancing narrow personal interests and patronage.”
“Out of the 33 candidates recommended, at least 17 were unqualified, according to the NJC’s own rules and standards.
“On the basis of our own checks, nearly all of the unqualified nominees got on the list for appointment on the basis of their relationships or affinity by blood or marriage with serving or retired, senior judicial figures.
“At least one candidate did not apply for the job and did not participate in the interview or selection process but was smuggled on to the list for appointment after the shortlisting had been done.
“The suggestion 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.
“Additionally, these appointments could violate the requirement of federal character. For example, Ebonyi State, which has no indigene on the FCT High Court, has also been denied any nominee in this current round of nominations but several states, which already have judges on the FCT High Court got two nominees, including Adamawa, Benue, Delta, Jigawa, Kano, and Kebbi states.
“In the light of this, the OBI has filed a separate application under the
Freedom of Information (Fol) Act, requesting both the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court and the NJC to disclose information on compliance with the Federal Character principle in appointments to the FCT High Court,” they added.
They stated that as a result of the alleged abuse, good candidates had been excluded from consideration in favour of “unqualified candidates whose only
claim to the job is the name or job of their parents, husbands, uncles or other judicial insiders.”
Shedding light on the petition, Co-Convener of the OBI and a former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, said: “These are not just unqualified nominees; they are bad nominees because only bad people will want to become judges through smuggling. They will make bad judges. We should resist them and their sponsors.
“We already have enough problems with the judiciary in our country. The way these people are going, there will be no courts or Bar to speak of in less than a generation if we don’t fight as lawyers, as citizens, and as people of conscience.”
Convener of the OBI, Mr. Sila Onu, said: “The NJC, which should be the guarantor of judicial integrity has chosen to make its rules expendable in order to facilitate judicial insider dealing. ‘This should not be allowed to stand.”