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Group berates Buhari over delay in appointing apex court justices

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Justice sector advocacy group, Access to Justice has condemned the undue delay by President Muhammadu Buhari in forwarding for senate confirmation, names of justices recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

The group said the president has inflicted incalculable long-term damage to the integrity and independence of the Judiciary by his conduct.

Access to Justice convener, Mr Joseph Otteh and Project Director, Deji Ajare in a joint statement, said the presidency has abused its powers, adding, “President’s antics serve overarching parochial, selfish interests.”

In October 2019, the NJC submitted a list of four serving Justices of the Court of Appeal, Justices Adamu Jauro, Emmanuel A. Agim, Samuel Oseji, and Helen M. Ogunwumiju to the president for appointment as justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Until August 31, 2020, nearly one year, the president did not forward the aforesaid names to the Senate for confirmation.

By mid-August 2020, the NJC again submitted another list of four Justices of the Court of Appeal to the President for appointment into the Supreme Court. The four comprise Justices Lawal Garba, Addu Aboki, I. M. M. Saulawa, and Tijjani Abubakar.

Few weeks later, on August 31, 2020, the president quickly submitted the names of the first and second sets of nominees to the Senate for confirmation.

While it took about 11 months for the President to send names of the first set of nominees for the Supreme Court positions to the Senate for confirmation, it took just about two weeks to do so for the latter set of nominees. 

“The presidency has offered no explanations whatever for what is a huge and remarkable contrast in the pace with which it acted on the recommendations of the NJC with respect to both sets of nominations.

“The processes leading to the recommendations of both sets of nominees for appointment to the Supreme Court were unarguably flawed, given that the NJC and the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), did not observe the requirements of the applicable Judicial Appointment Guidelines regarding notification and publicity for the vacancies, alongside offering an opportunity and level playing field to every qualified person to be considered for selection as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria,” the group stated.

They alleged that despite a request for compliance procedure from the FJSC through freedom of information, the commission withheld information.

“Therefore, it appears reasonable to conclude that the President’s reluctance to act on the first set of nominations sent to him in October 2019 was not as a result of any flaws or defects with the process leading to the nominations.

“So why did the president wait for so long before acting on the NJC recommendations, even when it was clear that the Supreme Court was, following the retirement of six of its 18 justices within last year, functioning at breaking point for so long? In spite of the volatile inferences that can be drawn from his actions, the president has not found it fitting to offer any explanations with respect to these nominations.

“President Buhari’s arm-twisting antics succeed but leave dark clouds hanging over Nigeria’s judiciary. The impression it created was that the president was set on manipulating how the Supreme Court is configured, politically and ethnically, now and for the near future.  

“He (president) wanted to determine how seniority amongst the Justices of the Supreme Court is ordered as well as which Justices of the Court can be expected to succeed to the highest judicial office as Chief Justice of Nigeria. The President’s letter to the Senate makes specific mention of the confirmation being ‘according to their ranking of seniority at the Court of Appeal,” Access to Justice declared.

Access to Justice said the conduct of the entire process leads to the conclusion that the presidency withheld names on the first set of recommendations from the NJC simply because it was targeting the inclusion of further names that were not included in the first list. 

The group said: “The president was willing to wait out the occurrence of that event, as well as ensure that its targets did not lose their comparable rankings with earlier nominated persons notwithstanding that the Supreme Court was almost collapsing with overbearing workloads due to its lean workforce. 

“The president has also created unpalatable public suspicions about his motives for delaying the Supreme Court appointments, and, in fact, some sections of the public have alleged there is a quid pro quo motive involved in it.

“The presidency’s interference with appointments into Supreme Court appointments further undermines the integrity and independence of the court, and politicizes membership of a court that ought to be a neutral, impartial, non-partisan and non-political institution.

“The precedent the president has set will diminish the stature of the Supreme Court, as well as promote similar efforts in the future to manipulate the appointment process along lines of vested or opportunistic interests.” 

Describing the action as blackmail, the group declared that the president by its conduct tells the Judiciary that if his favoured names are not submitted for an appointment, no other persons recommended by the NJC would be appointed into the Supreme Court.


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