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Group asks court to stop NJC from appointing Supreme Court justices

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Ayodele Olalere

A non-governmental organisation, Access to Justice (A2J), has asked a Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, to stop the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) from considering names of nominees for appointment to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Recall that in October 2019 the NJC had convened a meeting to consider nominees for appointment to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.   

At the meeting, four Justices of the Court of Appeal, Justices Adamu Jauro, Emmanuel A. Agim, C. Oseji and Helen M. Ogunwumiju, were named for elevation and appointment as Justices of the Supreme Court.

In the suit FHC/ABJ/CS/1460/2019 filed, on November 27, the Respondents are Justice Tanko Muhammed, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Senate President Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan and President Muhammadu Buhari.

The group accused the NJC and Federal Judicial Service Commission of violating the 2014 Appointment Guidelines.

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It alleges that the FJSC, the 1st Respondent and the NJC (the 2nd Respondent), failed to both “comply and ensure compliance with the established judicial appointment procedures, and, in fact, circumvented aspects of those procedures which make the recruitment process transparent, fair, merit-based and competitive and further failed to disclose information that would enable interested persons monitor how the recruitment exercise was done.”

According to the group, “the 2014 Judicial Appointment Guidelines and the 2016 National Judicial Policy both made far-reaching changes to previous judicial recruitment systems that were characterized by lack of transparency, opacity, lack of a level-playing field, influence-peddling and nepotism.”

 “The 2014 Judicial Appointment Guidelines and the 2016 National Judicial Policy prioritize and promote values of transparency, openness, merit and the availability of equal opportunity to all persons interested in judicial offices. Both instruments intend, in other words, to provide a level playing field for all eligible persons interested in serving in judicial offices, whether they are currently serving as judges/justices, are in private practice or in academic institutions of learning.”

The group therefore is seeking “declarations that the 1st Respondent (Federal Judicial Service Commission) did not fully, and in materials particular comply with the aforesaid Judicial Appointment Guidelines, particularly with respect to making a public call for expressions of interest in the vacant positions and notifying the Nigerian Bar Association of the vacancies and calling for nominations before it drew up a list of candidates it submitted to the National Judicial Council for the latter’s consideration for appointment as Supreme Court Justices which the National Judicial Council considered at its meeting of the 22nd and 23rd October, 2019.”

Also “an order of the Honourable Court quashing the list of candidates submitted by the Federal Judicial Service Commission (1st Respondent) to the 2nd Respondent (National Judicial Council) for consideration as Supreme Court Justices.

President Muhammadu Buhari had, in June 2019, made a public request for the appointment of more Supreme Court Justices. In the wake of this request, the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Federal Judicial Service Commission commenced the process for the recruitment and appointment of additional Justices of the apex court.