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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

CJN opposes suit challenging appointment of judges for FCT High Court 

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The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola has asked a Federal High Court in Abuja to dismiss a suit filed by a lawyer, Azubuike Oko, seeking to stop the appointment of 12 judges into the bench of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, High Court.

Justice Ariwoola made the plea on Thursday when his opposition against the suit was adopted.

The CJN through his lawyer, Akinlolu Kehinde SAN, who also appeared for the Chief Judge, CJ, of FCT, Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf and National Judicial Council, NJC, told Justice Inyang Ekwo while adopting their processes said that the lawyer who instituted the suit lacked judicial power to do so.

In a preliminary objection dated and filed March 1 by the senior lawyer, Kehinde asked the court to strike out or dismiss the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/205/3024 for want of jurisdiction.

The senior counsel who gave four-ground of arguments, said under Section 6(6)(c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Section 14(3) of the same Constitution, the suit is non-justiciable.

Specifically, he pointed out emphatically that Oko, the plaintiff, lacked the locus standi to institute the action.

“Under Section 245C(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the National Industrial Court of Nigeria has exclusive jurisdiction to determine matters relating to or connected with the employment of judicial officers.

“Under Section 245C(1)(d) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the National Industrial Court of Nigeria has exclusive jurisdiction to determine matters relating to or connected with and any dispute over the interpretation and application of Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution as it relates to the employment of judicial officers,” Kehinde argued.

In the affidavit in support of the preliminary objection deposed to by one Kemi Esene, a litigation Secretary in the law firm of Kehinde and Partners, she told Justice Ekwo that on September. 30, 2020, the court dismissed a similar suit.

She said the sult, marked FC/ABJCS/602/2020, filed by JRP Foundation Ltd against the former President Muhammadu Buhari and 24 others, was dismissed on June 10, 2020.

Esene said the sult had challenged the recommendation of 21 persons by the NJC to Buhari for appointment as judges of the High Court of the FCT.

She said the plaintiff had alleged that the Judicial Service Committee of the FCT acted in bad faith and grossly abused the power vested in it when it submitted the list of nominees for appointment as judges of the FCT High Court to NJC.

The lawyer averred that the court, in its judgment, upheld the preliminary objection of the defendants and said that since the plaintiff was not a party to the procedure for the appointment of the judicial officers, the foundation had no locus to institute the action.

Besides, she said the court held that Federal High Court had no jurisdiction over the matter because the subject matter had to do with employment of the persons recommended by NJC to be appointed as judges by the former President.

When the case was called on Thursday, plaintiff’s lawyer, Nkemakolam Okoro, told the court that the matter was for hearing and that they were ready to proceed.

Okoro said he filed an originating summons dated and filed February 16. 2024.

He said upon receipt of the counter affidavit jointly filed by FCT CJ, NJC and CJN, he filed a response on March 4.

He said he equally filed a counter affidavit on March 4 to oppose their preliminary objection.

The plaintiff counsel urged the court to grant all their reliefs.

Akinola Fasanmi, who appeared for the Nigeria’s President and the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, adopted all the processes filed by Kehinde Akinlolu SAN.

Justice Ekwo after taking arguments of all parties fixed March 15 for judgment.

The judge had on February 23, rejected the plaintiff’s ex-parte motion seeking to stop Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf from appointing 12 judges into the bench of the FCT High court.

Justice Ekwo, in a ruling on the ex-parte motion moved by Emmanuel Emerenini directed the plaintiff to put the defendants on notice of the motion ex-parte within two days of the order.

Justice Ekwo also ordered the plaintiff, a legal practitioner to serve the defendants with all processes filed in the suit within two days of the order for the defendants to show cause why the prayers on the motion should not be granted in the next adjourned date.

He, however, made an order for accelerated hearing.

The plaintiff in the motion, had sued Justice Baba-Yusuf, NJC and Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC, as 1st to 3rd defendants.

Also joined in the suit are the CJN, President of Nigeria and AGF as 4th to 6th defendants respectively.

The plaintiff sought an order of the court directing the parties in the suit to maintain status quo ante bellum pending the hearing and determination of his motion on notice.

Oko said he hails from Ebonyi, which had been routinely excluded and marginalised in the appointment of judges of the High Court of FCT by Justice Baba-Yusuf, NJC and FJSC.

The lawyer averred that, as a matter of fact, it was the CJ (Baba-Yusuf) that computes the names of qualified lawyers from selected states of the federation and transmitted same to FJSC for recommendation to NJC for appointment by the President of Nigeria,as judges of the FCT High Court.

He averred that the states mentioned for nomination of lawyers for appointment as judges into the 12 positions were Bauchi, Bayelsa, Enugu, Imo, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Taraba, and Zamfara.

He, however claimed that currently, Oyo and Kogi “already had two serving judges in the FCT High Court and the two states were given additional slots to now have three judges while Ebonyi State has no single serving judge in the High Court of the FCT”.

He prayed the court to grant their motion in the interest of justice.

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