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Uproar Greets Appointment of Appeal Court Judges

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Davidson Iriekpen writes that there have been enduring calls for withdrawal of the list of judges sent from the National Judicial Council to President Muhammadu Buhari for breaching the Federal Character principle

Never in the history of Nigeria has the appointment of judges and justices for the country’s federal courts attracted so much condemnations and rejection as it has done since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed power and since Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad became the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

While the country is still trying to cope with hullabaloo that followed the release of the list of 33 judges for appointment into the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court last December, another hue and cry is trailing the list of justices for the Court of Appeal sent to President Buhari for his approval by the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) and National Judicial Council.

Those against have contended that it offends the Federal Character Principle enshrined in Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution. They stated that some states did not either get any nomination or that some geopolitical zones were not adequately represented.

Information available to THISDAY revealed that the original list, which was compiled by the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, reflected Federal Character Principle but that it was later overturned.

The judges shortlisted for the appointment include: Justice Kadi Mohammed Danjuma (Niger State Sharia Court of Appeal); Justice Muhammad Ibrahim Sirajo (Plateau State High Court); Justice Abdul-Azeez Waziri (Federal High Court, from Adamawa State); Justice Yisuf Alhaji Bashir.

Others are: Justice Usman A. Musale (FCT High Court, from Yobe State); Justice Ibrahim Wakili Jauro (Yobe State High Court); Justice Abba Bello Mohammed (FCT High Court, from Kano State); Kadi Mohammed Lawal Omar (Katsina State Sharia Court of Appeal); Justice Bature Isah Gafai (Katsina State); Justice Danlami Zama Senchi (FCT High Court, from Kebbi State).

Equally on the list are: Justice Kadi Bello Ladan Raha (Kebbi State Sharia Court of Appeal); Justice Mohammed Lawal Abubakar (Sokoto State High Court); Justice Muslim Sule Hassan (Federal High Court, from Zamfara State); Junneth Ikechukwu Amadi (National Industrial Court, from Imo State); Justice Peter Oyinkenimiemi Affen (FCT High Court, from Bayelsa State); Justice Sybil Nwaka-Gbagi (Lagos High Court, from Delta State); Justice Olasumbo Goodluck (FCT High Court, from Lagos State); Justice Adebukunola Banjoko (FCT High Court, from Ogun State); Justice Olabode Adegbehingbe (Ondo State High Court); and Justice Bola Samuel Ademola (Ondo State High Court).

Since the list of judges became public, it has generated a lot of controversy with a cross section of groups calling on President Buhari, the FJSC and NJC led by the CJN, Justice Muhammad to seek for its rejection and cancellation.

First to raise its voice against the nominations is Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) which asked the NJC to withdraw the list. The SMBLF in a statement jointly signed by Mr. Yinka Odumakin (South-west), Chief Guy Ikoku (South-east), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-south), and Dr. Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), expressed shock over nominated candidates, saying that all the candidates picked from the North excluded Christians.

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The statement further advised the council return and retain the merit list submitted to it by Justice Dongban-Mensem. It noted that of the 20 candidates on the preferred list, all the candidates picked from the North excluded Christians, alleging that three Khadis were on board for a court that needs experts in various areas of law, including customary law. According to the leaders, the list of the PCA was said to have reflected all such needs but was whimsically overturned at the FJSC under the guise of Federal Character.

“It is part of the constitutional responsibilities of the PCA to scrutinise candidates and present a list of competent and qualified candidates to FJSC for consideration and onward transmission to the NJC for appointment. But for the nepotism that is celebrated in Nigeria today, what is the basis of not having a Christian on such list from entire northern Nigeria? We cannot accept that a multi-ethnic and religious country is being treated this way. We want them to call for the original list prepared by the President of the Court of Appeal to avoid lawsuit on the matter,” it said.

Also, a civil society group last month sent a petition to the CJN, Justice Muhammad, seeking the cancellation of the appointment. The group, Global Integrity Crusade Network (GICN), in a protest letter dated January 25, 2021, and addressed to Justice Muhammad, claimed that the process of the appointment lacked transparency and due process. In the petition signed by its Compliance Officer, Esther Iorhuna, stated that at all times material to its existence, the FJSC must be seen to be playing the role of appointment, promotion and discipline of judicial staff in an effective and trustworthy manner to ensure fair and proper administration of justice to the Nigerian populace.

They, therefore, called on the Chairman of FJSC, NJC, Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Director-General of Department of State Services (DSS) as well as other relevant stakeholders in the justice sector to rise to the occasion by cancelling the entire process leading to the recent emergence of some certain persons as Justices of the Court of Appeal.

The petition read in part: “Our Global Integrity Crusade Network (GICN) is aggrieved to note that the Federal Judicial Service Commission (simply called the FJSC or Commission) under your leadership has decided to recklessly desecrate the judiciary, which should be the last hope of the common man. Suffice it to state that Nigerians, particularly those who followed events at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court last year, are yet to recover from the shocks as a result of shabby appointment of judges. We recall that it took the timely intervention of the president before the anomaly created by the said appointment could be remedied.

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“Today, we are again faced with a worse situation where the FJSC has decided to conduct another appointment exercise for Justices of the Court of Appeal, which many observers describe as fraudulent, obscure, biased and apparent violation of due process.”

According to the letter, “The enormity of the irregularities have attracted attention and controversy by the public going by report in many national dailies and many reliable online media. As a law-centric organisation, we strongly believe that the judiciary should lead the efforts of redeeming Nigeria from the manacles of corruption, poverty, insecurity and hopelessness that have become insignia by which our country was identified in the international community before fate catapulted President Buhari into the cockpit of power on May 29, 2015.

“Unfortunately, what we see in the past few months in our judiciary can best be described as a complete deviation from the issues that unite Nigerians to those that are meant to split the country into pieces for selfish political interests. We are convinced that the recent appointment of Justices of the Court of Appeal, if not reversed as a matter of urgency, will continue to offend the Federal Character Principle enshrined in Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Let it be on record that we shall resist any attempt by narcissist elements within and outside the judiciary to assail and defile our sacrosanct constitution.”

Equally not pleased with list of judges are lawyers from the Ogun State Bar Forum who in their petition to Justice Muhammad advised that the nominations be dropped. In a letter signed by four Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Chairmen of the forum, J. T. Ogunniyi, Ayodele, A. Omoniyi , Olabisi Abdul-Azeez and Mr. Felix Adetoro of NBA Ota Branch, NBA Ilaro Branch, NBA Ijebu Ode Branch and NBA Sagamu Branch respectively, they all noted that while some other states have two names – one on the Preferred List and another on the Reserve List, the reverse is the case with Ogun State.

The lawyers maintained that the last time a judge from Ogun State Judiciary benefited from the exercise of elevation to the Court of Appeal was in 2008 and urged the CJN to take a second look and remedy the situation in the interest of justice and fair play.

Their full complaint titled: ‘Re: Appointment of Appeal Court Justices – Protest Against Grave Injustice to Ogun State Judiciary in The Current Exercise’ read: “We members of the Ogun State Bar Forum register our sincere appreciation to your lordship for doing so much in ensuring that we have adequate personnel in terms of appointment of Justices into our appellate courts for effective disposal of the backlog of cases.

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“However, our attention has been drawn to the recent publication of the list of selected candidates for interview in respect of appointment as Honourable Justices of the Court of Appeal and we deem it necessary to make this representation to your esteemed office.

“We have carefully scrutinised the names on the list as well as the judiciary formation from which they were selected and we discovered that of the 20 candidates on the preferred list and 20 candidates on the reserved list none comes from the Ogun State Judiciary. We as critical stakeholders, write to express our displeasure to your Lordship, against what we consider an act of injustice done to the Ogun State Judiciary in the on-going exercise of elevation of Judges to the Court of Appeal.

“The very last time that a Judge from Ogun State Judiciary benefited from the exercise of elevation to the Court of Appeal was in 2008, when Honourable Justice Lokulo-Sodipe was elevated and appointed as a Justice of the Court of Appeal. It is imperative to stress further that as at today, the only other indigene of Ogun State on the Court of Appeal Bench right now, was appointed from outside the Ogun State Bench.

“It follows that since 2009, no judge from the Ogun State Judiciary has been elevated to the Court of Appeal. Yet, we make bold to say, most respectfully, that we have some of the most hardworking and upright Judges in this country on the Ogun State Bench.

In the current/on-going exercise, again, no judge from the Ogun State Judiciary has been included in the list sent to the NJC for consideration. Yet, we are aware that there is a nominee from the Ogun State Judiciary with impeccable credentials and very high recommendations.

“To our shock, we found, from the list that is in the public domain that the Judge whose name appears on the list sent to the NJC, as representing Ogun State, is again from outside the Ogun State Judiciary.

“While it is conceded that any indigene of the state serving in another jurisdiction and qualified, is entitled to be considered, we submit, very respectfully, that it is most unfair and very demoralising, for judges in the Ogun State Judiciary to be consistently overlooked in preference for those from other jurisdictions when it is not the case that those in Ogun State have been found wanting in character, learning or experience but are in fact, able and deserving in every sense.”

 

 

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Judiciary

Alleged N10bn scam: Secondus demands N1bn, retraction from Afegbua

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Following this week’s allegation of financial fraud to the tune of N10 billion made against Prince Uche Secondus, national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP by Kassim Afegbua, the former, Thursday, demanded a retraction of the story and payment of N1 billion in damages from Afegbua.

Secondus through his counsel, Emeka Etiaba, threatened to take legal action against Mr. Afegbua within 48 hours if he fails to meet his demands.

Afegbua had accused Secondus of mismanaging the sum of N10 billion which he claimed accrued to the party from the sales of nomination forms for the 2019 election; a claim punctured by party spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, who noted that the party realized the sum of N4.

6 billion and not N10B billion.

The PDP boss noted that Afegbua, a former Information Commissioner in Edo state had in two national dailies as well as in a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, said that “much of the financial transaction of the PDP under Prince Uche Secondus have been shrouded in mystery.”

Afegbua also accused the Secondus leadership of using the bank account of Morufu Nigeria Limited in the sale of nomination forms in 2019, instead of the party’s account.

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However, Secondus in a letter from Emeka Etiaba Chambers and addressed to Afegbua through his counsel, Kayode Ajulo and Co obtained by Vanguard demanded the sum of N1billion from Afegbua within 48 hours failure to which he will be sued for libel.

Prince Kassim Afegbua
The letter reads in part “The above publication of yours portrays our client in a bad light and gives notice to the whole world that our client is a fraudster who is incapable of holding the exalted office of the national chairman of the PDP.

“The two publications made by you were given prominence on the front pages of the Newspapers you employed for your defamatory actions and the publications were widely circulated and read’.

The letter captured some of the prominent federal political positions Secondus held in the past including chairman, National Insurance Commission; Chairman, National Identity Management Commission; Member, Nigerian Railway Board, stating that he “kept an unblemished reputation.

The letter continued: “Your publications which you know to be false have therefore brought him to odium and has challenged his right standing in the society as a trustworthy character.

“The publications were read worldwide and most especially in all nooks and crannies of Nigeria and this fact has been confirmed by the phone calls that have trailed your publications.

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Take notice that if you fail to retract your said publications, apologize to our client in the said newspapers with the same prominence with which you published the offensive statements and pay the sum N1,000,000,000.00 (One Billion Naira) to him as damages (all within 48 hours from the date hereof), we shall proceed to institute an action to seek redress from a court of competent jurisdiction”.

Meanwhile, when our correspondent contacted Afegbua for his reaction, he had this to say: “When I receive the letter, I will respond to it. I will consult my lawyers. I haven’t received any letter. But I cannot be intimidated or distracted from pursuing accountability in PDP. That will be my initial reaction.”

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Judiciary

We Cannot Suspend Strike Now, JUSUN Tells CJN

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The national officials of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) had told the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad that it would be very difficult for it to call off its ongoing strike now.

JUSUN had visited the CJN in his office on Wednesday ostensibly to give him a feedback on his recent demand on the union to call off the ongoing strike.

The CJN had, at an earlier meeting with JUSUN leaders on April 6, asked the union to call off the strike in view of its adverse effect on the justice system in the country. According to a statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the CJN, Ahurakah Isah, the JUSUN officials, led by its Deputy National President, Emmanuel Abioye and Jimoh Musa Alonge (Treasurer), explained why the union found it difficult to heed the CJN’s demand to call off the strike.

Abiyoye told the CJN that the state governors must begin to demonstrate some level of seriousness by putting in place some measures precedent to the implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary in their respective states.

‘’Though there’s financial autonomy for the judiciary already in some states while some are assuring that they would comply, others have to take steps in readiness for compliance,’’ Abioye said. According to Abioye, the union expects each state to start implementing its selfaccounting law to deal with the Internally Generated Revenue in line with Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended; and that states without such law should put it in place.

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Abioye said it is his union’s position that there must be some level of seriousness from all quarters and, as such, the amount standing to the credit of the judiciary from the monthly federal allocation should be deducted directly from the source by the Accountant General of the Federation and remit same to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for onward transmission to heads of courts.

He said for the Federation Consolidated Account also known as Federal Allocation, the budget of each state judiciary submitted to the implementation committee (received) on October 2, 2020 should be implemented by deducting the amount due to the state judiciary directly from source by Accountant General of the Federation AGF) in line with Sections 81(3) and 162(9) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) for the states. “In other words, the AGF should deduct from the monthly Federal Allocation and remit it to NJC for onward transmission of the fund to the Heads of Courts at the State Judiciary.

“Until this is done, there is no going back, the strike would go on.’’ However, the CJN said it has become difficult to fault the idea of the strike since the rights of the union and its members which are clearly defined in the Constitution are being denied, especially at state level. ‘’I can’t fault your reasons for embarking on this protest because the union wants its rights restored in line with the provisions of the Constitution. I commend you for following due process so far to protest against the injustice,’’ the CJN said.

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JUSUN insists allocations must be deducted at source, as govs beg members to call off strike

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The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) has insisted that each state must implement its self-accounting law in dealing with Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).

In a statement issued by its General Secretary I. M. Adetola, in Kaduna, on Thursday, the Union maintained that states must implement the Fund Management Law in dealing with the state consolidated funds, in accordance with Section 121(3) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended.

This is as governors through the platform of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) on Thursday implored the union to call off its strike, and pledged to implement the financial autonomy for the judiciary.

JUSUN maintained that the monthly federal allocation to the judiciary should be deducted directly from the source by Accountant General of the Federation and remitted to National Judicial Council (NJC) for onward transmission to heads of courts,

“For the Federal Allocation, the Budget of each State Judiciary submitted to the implementation committee (received on Oct.

2, 2020) should be implemented by deducting the amount due to the state judiciary directly from the source by Accountant General of the Federation.

“This is in accordance with Section 81(3), Section 162(9) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic Nigeria (as amended) for the states. The Accountant General of the Federation should be directed accordingly,” he said.

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The union also called for the payment of the arrears from the month of October 2020.

Nigeria reported that JUSUN, on April 6, in efforts to ensure it strike action was effective, shut down all courts across the country by mounting guard at the entrance of the courts to ensure that no one entered the court premises.

The action has crippled court proceedings as well as commercial activities around the court premises.

It would be recalled that a Federal High Court, which sat in Abuja had in January 2014, held that the financial autonomy for the judiciary was a constitutional provision that must be complied with by the executive branch of government.

Also, President Muhammadu Buhari, on May 23 2020, signed into law an Executive Order to grant financial autonomy to the legislature and the judiciary across the 36 states of the federation.

The order mandated the Accountant-General of the Federation to deduct from source amount due to state legislatures and judiciaries from the monthly allocation to each state for states that refuse to grant such autonomy.

Also, the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, made the Executive Order No. 10 of 2020 mandatory, stating that all states of the federation should include the allocations of both the legislature and the judiciary in the first-line charge of their budgets.

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Meanwhile, the state governors through the platform of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) on Thursday, pledged to implement the financial autonomy for the judiciary by May ending at the latest and called on the striking members of the JUSUN to call off their two weeks old strike.

The chairman of the NGF and the Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, gave the assurance while speaking with journalists after meeting with stakeholders from the state judiciary and legislature at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

He said the modalities for the implementation were worked out at the meeting held at the Presidential Villa.

According to him, the meeting, chaired by the Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Ibrahim Gambari was attended by the Solicitor-General of the Federation, the representatives of the judiciary, the representatives of the Conference of Speakers, and House of Representatives.

 

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