Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
After days of suspense, intrigues and controversies, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday finally asked the Senate to ratify the nomination of Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem as the substantive President of the Court of Appeal.
The president’s request came barely a week after a former military Governor of Kaduna State, Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd.), wrote him a letter, accusing him of lopsided appointments, citing the delay in approving the nomination of Justice Dongban-Mensem as an instance.
But, a statement by presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, in Abuja yesterday, said the president forwarded the name of Justice Dongban-Mensem to the Senate for confirmation in accordance with his constitutional duty.
The statement added that her appointment followed her initial recommendation for the post by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“President Muhammadu Buhari, in line with his constitutional responsibility, has sent the nomination of Her Lordship, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, Acting President, Court of Appeal, to the Senate for confirmation as President, Court of Appeal.
“Justice Dongban-Mensem is a serving justice of the Court of Appeal and was recommended, as is the practice, by the National Judicial Council for the nomination by the president,” the statement stated.
Since the retirement in March of Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa as the Court of Appeal president, Justice Dongban-Mensem has been presiding over the affairs of the court in acting capacity.
Justice Bulkachuwa bowed out of public service after attaining the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Following Justice Bulkachuwa’s retirement, the president on March 5 had named Justice Dongban-Mensem as acting President of the Court of Appeal based on the recommendation of the Chief Justice of Nigeria led by Justice Tanko Muhammad, in compliance with the provisions of Section 238(4) and (5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
She was appointed in that capacity for three months being the next most senior judge of the Court of Appeal in accordance with tradition in the judiciary.
However, after the expiration of the initial three months allowed by the constitution for a presiding officer of any court to act, Buhari extended her appointment in acting capacity for another three months, thus generating controversies and resulting in an allegation that the president did not seem to be favourably disposed towards approving her appointment as substantive president of the Court of Appeal.
But the presidency, on Sunday, debunked the allegations, saying contrary to insinuations, her appointment as the substantive Court of Appeal president was not delayed by ethnicity or religion but rather by ongoing security checks.
The presidency had pleaded with the public to allow the security agencies to properly complete their jobs.
“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 presidency had said.
However, 24 hours after the explanation, the president opted to send Justice Dongban-Mensem’s name to the Senate for confirmation.
Born on June 13, 1957, Justice Dongban-Mensem, a daughter of a retired Court of Appeal judge, Justice M. B. Douglas-Mensem, hails from Shendam Local Government Area of Plateau State.
Until her appointment as acting President of the Court of Appeal, she was the presiding justice of the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division, and a life member of the Body of Benchers.
The Body of Benchers is responsible for the training and discipline of all lawyers in Nigeria.
Justice Dongban-Mensem has been described as an authority in Criminal and Civil Procedure Law, Taxation and International Public Finance, Public International Law, Legislative Drafting, Constitutional and Administrative Law and International Commercial Transactions.
After obtaining an LL.B and LL.M from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria, she proceeded to the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London, Russel Square where she obtained a Post-Graduate Diploma.
The judge, who was the registrar of Plateau State High Court in 1979, became a magistrate of various grades until she rose to the position of chief magistrate between 1981 and 1990.
She was a visiting lecturer on Press Law at the Catholic Media Centre, Kaduna from 1988-1992 and a part-time lecturer at University of Jos between 1989 and 1997.
She served as deputy chief registrar, Superior Courts and Protocol Affairs from 1990 to 1993 and was appointed a judge of the High Court of Justice, Plateau State from 1993 to 1996.
She was redeployed from Plateau State to Abuja in 1997 and became a judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) until 2003. She was the acting presiding justice of Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal between November and December 2009.