Presidency: Security Checks Delaying Confirmation of A’Court President

Garba Shehu

•Accuses IPOB of misleading US, UK on Christian genocide claim

By Omololu Ogunmade

The presidency yesterday explained the delay by President Muhammadu Buhari to forward to the Senate for confirmation, the nomination of Justice Monica Dongbam-Mensem as President, Court of Appeal.

Justice Dongbam-Mensem, who had been recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) to succeed Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa who retired in March, is presently occupying the position in an interim capacity.

Besides, the presidency also accused the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) of spending $85,000 monthly to lead a campaign aimed at persuading the United States and the United Kingdom to believing that genocide against Christians is going on in Nigeria.

However, amid the rising gale of criticisms that has trailed the delay in forwarding Justice Dongbam-Mensem’s nomination to the Senate for confirmation, the presidency attributed the situation to non-completion of her screening by security agencies.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, while responding to an inquiry by THISDAY on the rationale behind the delay, denied claims that Buhari has refused to send the judge’s name to the Senate because she is not a Muslim and does not hail from the core North.

Shehu who said Buhari is not a rubber-stamp president and would not be stampeded to carrying out his constitutional duties, added that the statutory time for the justice to act as the appellate court’s boss has not lapsed.

According to him, the system should be allowed to function effectively, and cited cases of some ministers who did not have National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificates in the past, as a major lesson on why proper security checks are necessary.

He said: “In making appointments upon the recommendations of other arms or agencies of the government, the president is not a rubber stamp that will mechanistically sign off on nominees that come before him.

“The president has a duty to ensure that all such appointments meet the requirements of the constitution and in protecting the supreme law of the land in this regard, he has an obligation to allow law enforcement and security agencies to do their work.

“Don’t forget our recent experience with ministers who were signed off upon and turned out as having not undertaking the compulsory national youth service, just to give you an example.

“In the specific case of the acting president of the Court of Appeal, Her Lordship Justice M. S Dongban-Mensem, the statutory regulatory time of her acting period has not lapsed.

“This is not about ethnicity or religion. It is about security and law enforcement agencies being allowed to complete their work. Nobody should seek to stampede the president in carrying out his constitutional duty in this respect. The president had not been a rubber stamp dealing with these matters before, and is not prepared to be one at this time. Let’s all allow the system to do what is right.”

The president has been under criticism, especially since the renewal of Justice Dongban-Mensem’s acting appointment for another three months, over the delay in confirming her nomination.

Some of the critics had attributed the delay to part of an alleged plot to edge her out of the post so she could be replaced by Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, who chaired the 2019 presidential election petitions tribunal, which affirmed the president’s victory in the 2019 election.

A former Military Governor of Kaduna State, Colonel Dangiwa Umar (rtd), had in a recent open letter to the president, accused him of trying to stop

Justice Dongban-Mensem’s confirmation on the ground of religious and sectional biases.

But the presidency had dismissed the allegation, saying Umar’s campaign for Justice Dongban-Mensem’s confirmation as Court of Appeal’s president is premature.

“Her Lordship Justice Dongban-Mensem was first approved as president of the court following a recommendation by the National Judicial Council by President Buhari three months ago, who approved a further three months acting period starting from June 3rd.

“Legally speaking, the privilege to lead the Court of Appeal in acting capacity is for six months. As it is today, the beneficiary is just three months in the office. It is therefore mischievous and unreasonable for anyone to start a campaign, premature as it is, over a right that has not arisen,” the presidency had said.

Presidency Accuses IPOB of Misleading US, UK on Christian Genocide Claim

Also yesterday, the presidency accused IPOB of spending $85,000 monthly to lead a campaign aimed at persuading the United States and the United Kingdom to believe that genocide against Christians is going on in Nigeria.

A statement by Shehu, while dismissing the campaign as false, accused IPOB, which is crusading for the excision of the South-east from Nigeria to form a Biafra Republic, of sponsoring the campaign, which involves the use of published articles in collaboration with some Christian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and a US lobbying firm, which he said had been sending letters to the US Congress on the genocide claim.

Shehu described as unfortunate, the decision of the US Congress to yield to the persuasion that Christians are being persecuted in Nigeria, and has consequently been lobbying the White House to appoint a special envoy to Nigeria on the matter.

He urged both Nigerians and the international community not to believe the campaign, describing it as divisive.

“Nigerians and the international community are advised to be wary of this divisive campaign, which available evidence shows is being funded with a monthly spending of $85,000 since October 2019, with no records of the source of this largesse.

“The campaign consists of producing articles in the names of the alleged Christian NGOs’ leaders (of campaign groups created at the time this PR contract with a US lobbying firm was signed) and letters to and from members of Congress to the White House.

“Unfortunately, some members of Congress have clearly been persuaded there is indeed a ‘Christian persecution’ underway in Nigeria – and do so quoting the campaign – and they are known to be taking up the case directly with the White House to appoint the special envoy,” he said.

The statement, which said the alleged campaign was uncovered by an agency of the Nigerian government, added that there are two interconnected campaigns being simultaneously run by IPOB.

According to the statement, the intention of both campaigns calling for the appointment of a US Special Envoy to Nigeria to stop “genocide” of Christians is meant “to drive a wedge between the Nigerian government and its US and UK/European allies.”

Shehu who described the claim of IPOB that it is concerned about Christian wellbeing in Nigeria as “a ruse,” alleged that the US charity firm involved in the campaign had met with the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and made presentations to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The statement said various platforms had been created in four European countries to drive the campaign with various names coined for it.

It stated that some published opinion articles had been used to support the claim in the US and some websites created by public relations firm hired in the UK seemed to have succeeded in convincing a British parliamentarian, with France, EU, and Germany also drawn into the agenda.

“There is also a UK and European angle of the campaign, which is more opaque than its US sister campaign – given there is less legal requirement for public filings – but what is known of this at the moment is that their budget is sufficient to hire four PR firms in the UK, Belgium, France and the US (the latter additional to the above).

“They have founded an “NGO/charity” and a linked web-based campaign named “Stop the Silent Slaughter,” which is well designed and complete with video “evidence”-completely concocted.

“Members of the alleged Christian NGO have had multiple Op-ed articles in conservative news websites promulgating their message of a “Christian genocide”. Some of those articles have also been used as “evidence” in the sister US campaign.

“Two of those conservative news websites were co-founded by the owner of the UK PR firm they have hired to generate their publicity as well as an OP-ed article in the name of a British MP who may have been convinced by their campaign under false pretences.

“They have secured additional coverage in France, EU and Germany. They secured a MPs debate on the ‘Christian genocide’ in the House of Commons in which staff member of the UK PR was referenced as the “private secretary” to the leader of the UK-based Charity,” he said.