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Access to Justice knocks appeal court justices’ appointment

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Otteh

Calls for release of Kaduna activist

The judiciary watchdog, Access to Justice (A2J), has called for the cancelation of the entire judicial selection exercise conducted for the appointment of justices of the court of appeal for lacking transparency and merit.

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The body also called for the commencement of another selection process, beginning with a call for expression of interest.

The group, in a statement issued by its convener, Mr. Joseph Otteh lamented that the appointments were influenced by overt political interest from the presidency in appointing preferred persons into appellate court positions.

“Given the available information, including published remarks by an eye-witness – the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Olumide Akpata – there is no evidence that the selection process of the Court of Appeal nominees met objectivity standards and merit stipulated by the Extant Revised NJC Guidelines & Procedural Rules for the appointment of judicial officers of all superior courts of record in Nigeria (Appointment Guidelines).

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“The Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), which is responsible for ensuring that candidates for federal judicial office are selected based on stipulations of transparency, objectivity, a level-playing field, and merit, has a dismal and notorious history of flouting the Appointment Guidelines and shielding information about what was actually done from the public.

“There is nothing to indicate, for example, that the FJSC published the Court of Appeal vacancies on its website, or invited applications from all qualified persons for those vacancies, or placed vacancy notices on the notice boards of the NBA alongside sending relevant notices to the leadership of the NBA, all of which is required under the Guidelines.

“The outcome of the selection exercise shows that no nominee for the Appeal Court positions was selected from the Bar, in spite of the broad range of professional competencies found amongst practicing lawyers and academics.

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“It further shows that the judiciary is still maintaining its narrow, insular and counter-productive policy of excluding other qualified members of the legal community from consideration for appellate judicial positions, in spite of provisions of the Constitution and the appointment Guidelines,” A2J stated.

It called for the adoption of a much more transparent, objective, and rigorous process for evaluating the strengths and credentials of those applying for the available positions.

According to the group, the FJSC must use clear standards for assessing the strengths of those who express interests in the position.

It stressed that an institution or committee of reputable legal experts, quite independent of the FJSC, should be tasked with the responsibility of examining and evaluating the credentials of all the nominees on their merits and submitting their recommendations to the FJSC.

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“Based on the overall performance of the nominees, a short-list is sent to the NJC, which will use this as a basis for its review and recommendations,” it suggested, adding that the judiciary is still failing to reorganise itself in ways capable of re-inspiring public confidence that has been brutally shaken in the last few years.

It warned that the Judiciary appears not to be concerned that its public perception and image has undergone significant shifts over the years, and is rapidly in decline.

The group also called on the Nigerian Police to respect the constitutional role of the judiciary and immediately release Kaduna-based human rights activist, Mahadi Shehu from “unlawful detention”.

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The Police arrested Shehu on February 16, 2021, for alleging that the Katsina State government had misappropriated funds up to N52 billion from the state’s security account.

The activist was detained for 11 days and on March 18, 2021, Justice Ambrose Alaagoa of the Federal High Court, Kano, granted bail to the whistleblower and awarded N5billion to him against the Police.

According to A2J, Shehu is yet to be released.

“Nigeria operates a constitutional democracy and since the questions concerning the allegations of fraud are being adjudicated in a court of law, the rule of law must prevail, and no person is allowed to use extra-judicial means to punish or persecute whistleblowers.

“The arrest and detention Mr. Shehu is one too many, and Access to Justice is concerned about the unchecked culture of contempt of court, which has become a single thread running through the ranks of government agencies, which continue to disrespect the provisions of the Constitution, the Anti-Torture Act as well as Nigeria’s international obligations.

“The intimidation and unlawful arrest of citizens by security forces have been on a steady increase under the current administration, and the concept of the rule of law is regularly undermined. This unabated situation threatens the gains that have been made in the Nigerian justice system over the years and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms,” it declared.

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