By Ralph Christopher
The National Judicial Council (NJC) has been urged to rise and defend the integrity of the judiciary against obvious manipulation by some state governments, especially in the appointment of female judicial officers.
In a petition to the Chairman of the NJC and Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, the Centre for Public Accountability (CPA), expressed shock at the “terrible drama” in the selection of a substantive Chief Judge for Gombe State.
Insisting that it had become “worrisome and a bad signal against the dispensation of justice in Nigeria”, CPA asked the CJN to step in and halt the anomaly, which is already destroying the integrity of the judiciary.
Mr. Olufemi Lawson, the Executive Director of CPA, , in the petition, lamented what his group described as “the unconstitutional decision of the Gombe State Government, to prevent Honourable Justice Beatrice Illiya, from assuming the position of the state’s Chief Judge, in a manner which clearly violates known conventions and our laws”.
CPA stated that “the continued refusal by the Gombe State Government to allow Hon. Justice Beatrice Illiya to be appointed the subtattibe CJ of the state is premised on the major reasons of her religion, gender and her Tangale-Waja ethnic background”.
The body insisted that “the action of the state Governor, 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 Hon. Justice Mua’zu A. Pindiga as a replacement to Hon. Justice Illiya, in clear violation of Section 271(4) of the 1999 Constitution .
“For the purpose of clarity, Justice Pindiga is by far a junior judicial 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 Gombe 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 11th August, 2020, directive of your noble Council directing the Gombe State Judicial Service Commission to re-submit names of nominees for appointment as substantive Chief Judge of Gombe State, by doing the right thing of including the name of the most senior judge of the Gombe 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 Hon. Justice Elizabeth Karatu, and that of the Cross River State, where the governors 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.
“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” CPA said.
Recall that the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA had in a petition earlier in the year, expressed worry that deep seated discriminations in appointment of judicial officers are more pronounced in the northern part of the county, advising the NJC not succumb to such anachronistic and discriminatory antics.
FIDA’s Country Vice-President, Barr. Rhoda Prevail Tyoden, and National Secretary, Barr. Evelyn Membere-Asimiea, had drawn the attention of the NJC and in particular the CJN, Justice Mohammed, to what they described as “serious infractions by the Gombe State Judicial Service Commission where a female Judge, Justice Beatrice Lazarus Iliya, is about to be denied elevation to the Chief Justice of the State, ostensibly because of her gender”.
FIDA had reminded the NJC that Hon. Justice Beatrice Lazarus Iliya who is the most senior judge in the Gombe State Judiciary was appointed acting Chief Judge, but instead of confirming her as the substantive Chief Judge upon the expiration of her acting appointment, two other junior judges were nominated and appointed in that capacity.
FIDA said “we strongly feel that this action is based on gender discrimination as Hon. Justice Beatrice Lazarus Iliya has proved to have professional competence through her performance as acting Chief Judge of Gombe”.
They insist that the conditions spelt out in Revised Rule 3(6) of the Procedural Rules of NJC required the consideration of the most senior judge for the position of a Chief Judge among other requirements, should be followed to its letters.
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