A voluntary organisation of Nigerian lawyers, the Open Bar Initiative, has petitioned the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), urging him to reject the appointment of 22 out of the 33 persons recommended to him for as judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.
The copies of the petition were also sent to the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, urging them to advise the President to reject the recommendations.
The petition dated April 30 was signed by the co-conveners of the group, Silas Onu and Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, who is a former National Human Rights Commission.
The NJC had at its meeting held on April 22 and 23 recommended the 33 persons to Buhari for appointment to the FCT High Court bench which currently has 33 serving judges.
They alleged that the recommendation of the 22 persons for judicial appointments was marred by “violation of applicable NJC rules for selection and appointment of superior court judges” as well as “judicial insider dealing.”
It also said the recommendations violated the federal character principle as contained in Section 2 of the FCT High Court (Number of Judges) Act, 2003 and Rule Three (6) of the NJC Guideline for Appointment of Judges.
The petitioners stated, “Mr. President Sir, having sworn to the world to defend and uphold the constitution and institutions established under it, we appeal to you as the custodian of our national values to do right by your oath and decline this list.
“Therefore, we pray and plead with you to reject this recommendation and order a transparently objective selection exercise devoid of conflict of interest and undue influence or insider dealing of any kind.
“We are not against the children of judges applying, but we insist that even they must compete on a level playing field with all others and they cannot be exempt from existing rules which govern the selection and appointment of judges.
“The NJC loses its claim to manage the judiciary if it cannot apply its own rules fairly.”
Names of all the 33 recommended persons and the 22 of them whose recommendations were faulted, were listed in the petition.
But the affected persons could not be reached as of Wednesday.
The petitioners stated, “Of the 33 names recommended for appointment to Mr. President, only 11 met the criteria set out in the employment guidelines of the National Judicial Council. In other words, the NJC chose to violate its own laid down criteria and regulations for the appointment of judges.
“There is evidence to suggest that most of these other 22 nominees who manifestly did not meet the NJC’s criteria got into this list because of their connections and/or family affiliation.
“This failure to comply with clear and existing regulations in and of itself should invalidate the entire list and process.”
The petitioners said many of the 22 persons did not meet the provisions of Section 255 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), which pegged qualification for becoming a judge in the High Court of the FCT to be a minimum of 10 years qualification as a legal practitioner.
Alleging insider dealings in the recommendations, the petitioners said most of the 22 persons were “related to serving senior members of the judiciary or close aides and members of the NJC”.
They added, “By way of illustration, of the 22, one is the daughter of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria; one is the daughter of the immediate past President of the Court of Appeal, one is the daughter of a Justice of the Supreme Court and daughter-in-law of a Justice of the Court of Appeal, one is the sister of the Presiding Justice of Appeal, Akure Division, one is the sister of a member of the NJC and also wife of the President of the National Industrial Court, Justice Kanyip.
“The suggestion, Mr. President, 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.”