Gombe Chief Judge Saga: Group Tasks NJC on Female Judges’ Protection

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Alex Enumah in Abuja

A civil group, the Centre for Public Accountability (CPA), has called on the National Judicial Council (NJC) to rise up to the defence of female judges from perceived discrimination by some state governments, particularly in the appointment of a Chief Judge.

CPA in a petition to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman of the NJC, Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, specifically lamented what it described as unconstitutional process in the selection of a substantive Chief Judge for Gombe State.

Executive Director of the group, Mr. Olufemi Lawson, in the said petition, drew the attention of the NJC to the “unconstitutional decision of the Gombe State Government to prevent Justice Beatrice Illiya from assuming the position of the state Chief Judge, in a manner which clearly violates the known conventions and our laws.”

The group alleged that the continued refusal of the Gombe State Government to make Justice Illiya the substantive Chief Judge is premised on her religion, gender and her Tangale-Waja ethnic background.

“The action of the Governor of Gombe State, Alhaji Inuwa Yahaya, is just one of his numerous attempts at desperately seeking to control the judiciary. This desperation has been taken further with the appointment of Justice Mua’zu Pindiga as a replacement, in clear violation of Section 271 subsection 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

“For the purpose of clarity, Justice Pindiga is by far a junior officer to Justice Beatrice Illiya, and we sincerely believe his nomination deserves being thrown out by your noble council. We firmly believe as Nigerians, that the judiciary, being the last hope of the common man, should not be manipulated by politicians, as the case of Gombe State judiciary is an attempt to impose a burden of credibility on the NJC.

“It is worrisome that Justice Pindiga’s appointment as acting Chief Judge of the state has been renewed for the fourth time, despite his visible lackluster performance as a judicial officer, coupled with the several corruption allegations surrounding his office.

“It is also sad that the Gombe State Government has continued to delay the August 11, 2020, directive of your noble council directing the state Judicial Service Commission to re-submit names of nominees for appointment as substantive Chief Judge of Gombe State, by doing the right thing to include the name of the most senior judge of the state High Court of Justice.

“While we strongly believe in the commitment of the NJC towards protecting the sanctity of the judiciary and by extension, our democracy, we are disturbed by the worrying tendency of some state governments to truncate the seniority hierarchy in the appointment of Chief Judges.

“The recent cases of Kebbi State involving Justice Elizabeth Karatu and that of the Cross River State, where the governor arbitrarily prevented the appointment of Justice Akon Ikpeme, before the intervention of your great council, are just a few that we wish to remind you of.

“We believe that the NJC will in the present situation stand firm to be seen as being fair to all, and reject the impression that it is leaving our women judges to be vulnerable to political manipulations and machinations of these state executives” the petition read in part.