Legal practitioners under the aegis of Lawyers in Defence of Democracy have written to President Muhammadu Buhari, urging him to discountenance a petition written by a group, Open Bar Initiative and grant approval to the recommended list forwarded by the National Judicial Council for appointment of judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory
In a statement signed by its national coordinator, Ohazuruike Tochukwu and publicity secretary, I. A. Bello, the legal practitioners said the petitioners hinged their petition on a wrongful interpretation of the law and on speculation and discrimination contrary to the clear provisions of Section 42 (2) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
It would be recalled that the petition, had alleged that the selection process of the judges violated the National Judicial Council’s laid down rules and procedures; violated High Court of the FCT (Number of Judges) Act, 2003 and is fraught with judicial insider dealing which risks turning the judiciary into an instrument for advancing narrow personal interests and patronage.
The statement reads partly, “With due respect to our learned colleagues, they may not have been informed that on the 17th March, 2016 and 19th of March, 2016 both Chambers of the National Assembly passed High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (Number of Judges) (Amendment Bill) 2016 which your Excellency graciously assented to on the 31st of May, 2016. The summary of the contents of the Bill was to increase the number of judges of the FCT High Court from 37 to 75 to provide for sufficient number of judges in view of the increase in the number of cases in the Court’s dockets.
Again, the petitioners alleged that the selection process violated the National Judicial Council’s laid down rules and procedures and went ahead to declare at least 22 names on the list as being unqualified. It is our contention that they hinged their petition on this leg based on a wrongful interpretation of our laws.
“The 1999 Constitution provides in Section 256 (3) that: A person shall not be qualified to hold the office of a Chief Judge or a Judge of the High Court of the Federation Capital Territory, Abuja unless he is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period of not less than ten years.
“This with all due respect is the only qualification for a person to be appointed as a judge of the FCT High Court and no other.”
It stated further that, “Your Excellency, on the third leg of the petition which alleges judicial insider dealing which risks turning the judiciary into an instrument for advancing narrow personal interests and patronage, we were eager to see the long list of names on the petition who were unqualified and were forced to be qualified based on their parentage and other filial considerations. However, on a careful look at the petition, the petitioners cited only three children of Late, Retired and serving Justices of Appellate courts out of a list of Thirty three very qualified nominees , which is less than 10% of the list but dedicated an entire paragraph of the petition.
“It is vividly clear that this paragraph was inserted to enable this petition get the desired headlines as it has gotten in the media which is the extent of the effect the petition can have. It has achieved all the mischief and misguided perception it can achieve. If indeed serving and retired judges and justices were powerful enough to sway the composition of the list, the two female justices and one late justice would not have been the only or most powerful people in the judiciary to push their children. But we must ask, did Justice Katsina-Alu (may his soul rest in peace) come from the dead to push for his daughter?