Who’s After Justice Dongban-Mensem?

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The extension of the appointment of Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem as Acting President of the Court of Appeal by President Muhammadu Buhari has heightened suspicion of plot to stop her
from being appointed the substantive capacity, Davidson Iriekpen writes

It was not until President Muhammadu Buhari extended the appointment of Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem as the Acting President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) from June 3 for a further period of three months that tongues started wagging of a grand plot to deny her the position in substantive capacity. The judge assumed office on March 6 following the retirement of Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa who clocked the statutory mandatory age of 70 years as Justice of Appeal Court.

The Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) had recommended both Justice Dongban-Mensem and Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba to the National Judicial Council (NJC) to replace Bulkachuwa in line with the Constitution.

For instance, Section 238(4) states: “If the office of the President of the Court of appeal is vacant, or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the President shall appoint the most senior Justice of the Court of Appeal to perform those functions.”

Being the most senior judge of the court, the NJC forwarded Dongban-Mensem’s name to President Buhari for onward transmission to the Senate for confirmation in line with Section 238. (1) of the Constitution which states clearly that: “The appointment of a person to the office of President of the Court of appeal shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.”

But for some reasons, Buhari is yet to send her name for confirmation after three months. Instead, he appointed her in an acting capacity and last week renewed it for another three months, which could see her act as PCA till September 2020. This is making Nigerians wonder why it is taking President Buhari so long to write the Senate to confirm Justice Dongban-Mensem when he has in the last few months written to the upper legislative chamber to seek the confirmation of other people or even sent letters to the National Assembly seeking sundry loans.

While Dongban-Mensem is a minority northern Christian from Plateau State, Garba is a northern Muslim. The acting PCA is daughter of a retired judge of the Appeal Court, Justice M. B. Douglas-Mensem from the Shendam Local Government Area of Plateau State.
Since the establishment of the Court of Appeal in 1976, only the first president, Justice D. O. Ibekwe was Christian. The others have been Muslim – Mamman Nasir, K. M. A. Akanbi, Umaru Abdullahi, J. A. Salami and Z. A. Bulkachuwa. Already, this administration has been repeatedly accused of favouring the appointment of northern Muslims into key positions.

Many believe that the intrigues to deny Justice Dongban-Mensem are more political than ethnic or religious. Investigation revealed that those in the corridors of power are digging in on her to get her disqualified and pave the way for Garba.
As a first sign, her National Youth Service Corps record which she undergone in 1980/81, is being scrutinised.

Garba, the preferred candidate, chaired the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal which delivered judgment in favour of Buhari in September 2019. He had replaced Justice Bulkachuwa as chairman of the tribunal following protests by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over an alleged conflict of interest, that her husband is a senator on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the president’s party.

Investigation by THISDAY revealed that those who are against Dongban-Mensem feel that allowing her the mount the saddle would completely deny Garba the position due to age. It is believed that since she was born in 1957, she would be PCA and retire in 2027 when she would clock the mandatory retirement age of 70 years, a whopping seven years away, by which case Garba would have retired.

Even though it is a tradition for the next most senior justice in the Court of Appeal to be appointed as president once there is a vacancy, it was gathered attempts to stop Justice Dongban-Mensem ascending the position started long before Justice Bulkachuwa retired on March 6.

First, were pressures on her to agree to be elevated to the Supreme Court so as to pave the way for Justice Garba. A source privy to the intrigues told THISDAY that when she was consulted that she would be nominated for elevation to the Supreme Court, she declined the offer.

The source said she was consulted to avoid a repeat of the crisis that occurred when a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, declined his nomination to the Supreme Court after his name had been sent to the NJC without his knowledge.

It was learnt that the pressures were so much on her that those close to her were also contacted to prevail on her to accept the elevation, all to no avail. The source said it took the intervention of a high-ranking member of the NJC for those plotting to scheme her out to back out of the plot.

An NJC member who is from the South-west, pointedly told his colleagues behind the plot that “since her lordship has expressed her preference to be left alone at the Court of Appeal, putting pressures on her to accept the nomination of elevation to the Supreme Court is uncalled for.”

“It took the intervention of the senior member of the NJC for her to be left alone. Those behind the scheming are out to ensure that a Northern Muslim succeeds Justice Bulkachuwa as the President, Court of Appeal,” the source added.

The same difficulty in confirming Justice Dongban-Mensem had trailed the appointment and confirmation of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) in 2016. The NJC had long forwarded Justice Onnoghen’s name to Buhari to be named the new CJN based on the recommendation of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, but he refused to forward the nomination to the Senate for confirmation due to intrigues at the time.

On November 10, 2016, he inaugurated him as acting CJN following the retirement of Justice Mahmud Mohammed at the attainment of the mandatory 70-year retirement age. While the first three months of Onnoghen was expiring, the president was on medical vacation in the United Kingdom. With tongues wagging on his fate and anxiety mounting if the jurist would ever be confirmed, the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, took up the gauntlet and sent his name to the National Assembly for confirmation as the substantive CJN, something many had expected to Buhari to do with ease long before he travelled.
The way and manner Onnoghen was removed from office would later sustain the suspicion that he was not wanted.

According to a lawyer, Caleb Mutfwang failure to send a letter recommending Justice Dongban-Mensem to the Senate soonest would be in utmost bad faith and would lend credence to the rumours making the rounds that Mr. President has no intention of allowing her become the substantive President of the Court of Appeal.

“We can only hope that this is not a ploy to buy time to find a reason to dump her Lordship and appoint someone from his place of preference? Failure to send a letter recommending Justice Dongban-Mensem to the Senate on or before 6th June would be in utmost bad faith and will definitely lend credence to the rumours making the rounds that Mr. President has no intention of allowing the Honourable Justice Dongban-Mensem become the second substantive President female of the Court of Appeal,” he said.

A public affairs analyst, Samson Edegbai, puts the blame of the plot to truncate the hierarchical structure in the Court of Appeal on President Buhari. He argued that if the president had done the needful, nobody would suspect any foul play.

“If there is any allegation against the president for confirming Monica Dongban-Mensem and any suspicion, blame the president himself for it. He had the time to this in three months but refused to. The same president has either sent over three letters to the Senate seeking the confirmation of other people since March. He has even sent letters to the National Assembly seeking sundry loans. Why not to confirm Justice Dongban-Mensem. What’s the big deal in doing this if indeed he wants to?,” Edegbai said.

The most scathing criticism over Justice Dongban-Monsem’s non-confirmation came from a former military Governor of Kaduna State, Colonel Abubakar Umar Dangiwa (rtd), who penultimate Sunday, warned Buhari that his “lopsided appointments will ruin Nigeria”.

Umar in a widely circulated letter, recalled how previous civilian and military governments spread their appointments, saying what obtains now is worrisome and condemnable. He equally raised the alarm that the current situation would ruin to Nigeria, urging the president to save his image by confirming a Christian as the next President of the Court of Appeal.

He said Justice Dongban Mensem, a northern Christian, is serving out her second three-month term as acting President of the Court of Appeal without firm prospects that she will be confirmed substantive head.

He wrote: “May I also invite the attention of Mr. President to the pending matter of appointment of a Chief Judge of the Nigerian Court Appeal which appears to be generating public interest. As it is, the most senior judge, Justice Monica Dongban Mensem, a northern Christian, is serving out her second three-month term as acting President of the Court of Appeal without firm prospects that she will be confirmed substantive head.

“I do not know Justice Mensem but those who do attest to her competence, honesty and humility. She appears eminently qualified for appointment as the substantive Chief Judge of the Court of Appeal as she is also said to be highly recommended by the National Judicial Council. If she is not and is bypassed in favour of the next in line who happens to be another northern Muslim, that would be truly odd.

“In which case, even the largest contingent of PR gurus would struggle to rebut the charges that you, Mr. President, is either unwilling or incapable of acting on your pledge to belong to everyone — and to no one. I hope you would see your way into pausing and reflecting on the very grave consequences of such failure not just to your legacy but to the future of our great country.”

QUOTE

those who are against Dongban-Mensem feel that allowing her the mount the saddle would completely deny Garba the position due to age. It is believed that since she was born in 1957, she would be PCA and retire in 2027 when she would clock the mandatory retirement age of 70 years, a whopping seven years away, by which case Garba would have retired. Even though it is a tradition for the next most senior justice in the Court of Appeal to be appointed as president once there is a vacancy, it was gathered attempts to stop Justice Dongban-Mensem ascending the position started long before Justice Bulkachuwa retired on March 6