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Lawyers ask Buhari to reject list of judicial appointees

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An association of lawyers under the aegis of the Open Bar Initiative (OBI) has petitioned the President, Muhammadu Buhari, asking him to reject the list of 33 judges presented to him by the National Judicial Council (NJC) to be appointed to the bench of the Federal High Court.

The group alleged that 17 nominees on the list were not qualified, as they did not go through screening stipulated by the law.

Meanwhile, two other groups, Citizen’s Rights Initiative (CRI) and the Nigerian Advocates for Equity and Justice (NAEJ) have urged President Buhari to discountenance the lawyers’ petition.

CRI in a letter dated May 8, 2020, signed by its convener, Comrade Yakubu Eleto said the petition “is wicked and baseless” and urged the president to approve the nominations as recommended by the NJC.

Also, NAEJ urged the president to disregard the “unmeritorious petition by the self-serving group” and proceed to approve the recommendations of the NJC by appointing more judges into the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.

OBI had in a petition dated April 30, 2020, signed by the convener, Silas Joseph Onu and Chidi Anselm Odinkalu said the selection process violated the NJC laid down rules, procedures and is fraught with judicial insider dealing which, risks turning the judiciary into an instrument for advancing narrow personal interests and patronage.

According to the group, which said it is an association of hundreds of lawyers in Nigeria, dedicated to the goal of defending the integrity of the legal profession and administration of justice stated that the recommendation from the NJC to President Buhari is irretrievably flawed and cannot be allowed to stand.

“The selection process violated the NJC laid down rules and procedures and is fraught with judicial insider dealing which risks turning the judiciary into an instrument for advancing narrow personal interests and patronage,” it said.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria on April 26, 2020, forwarded a list of 70 nominees to be appointed into different levels of the judiciary as judges. 33 nominees on the list were recommended to be appointed to the bench of the Federal High Court.

But OBI claims that many of the nominees are children, in-laws, or families of senior or retired judicial officers. Besides, they claimed the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice I.U Bello, screened only 15.

 
“Of the 33 names recommended for appointment for Mr. President, only 11 met the criteria set out in the employment guideline of the NJC. NJC chose to violate its laid down regulations for the appointment of judges,” the group said.

The group also copied President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmed Lawan and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila.

CRI however, urged the Odinkalu-led group to immediately tender an unreserved apology to the NJC, Chief Magistrate Olufola Olufolashade Oshin and others in three national dailies.

According to NAEJ, the appointment of more judges into the said court will strengthen the Court, lessen the burden on the present judges of the Court and ensure speedy administration of Justice in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
   
In a letter to Buhari signed by Azeez Taiwo Hassan and dated May 8, 2020, the group expressed their disappointment that legal practitioners, particularly, someone of the calibre of Odinkalu, a former Head of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), would peddle unverified information about his professional and learned colleagues all in a bid to serve parochial interests and tarnish the reputation of the eminent nominees and the NJC.
   
“As lawyers and stakeholders in the administration of justice in Nigeria, we have read and digested the contents of the said petition and we have established that the petition is mischievous, full of lies and informed by some undisclosed sinister motives best known to the writers themselves,” NAEJ said.


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