Legal challenge to FCT High Court judge appointments met with CJN’s opposition

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A lawyer named Azubuike Oko filed a complaint in an Abuja Federal High Court challenging the selection of twelve justices to the FCT High Court bench; the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, has asked the court to reject the case.

On Thursday, when he voiced his opposition to the lawsuit, Justice Ariwoola made the plea.

As part of their procedures, the CJN’s legal team—including Akinlolu Kehinde SAN, who represented the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf, and the National Judicial Council (NJC)—told Justice Inyang Ekwo that the lawyer who had filed the lawsuit did not have the authority to do so.

The senior lawyer, Kehinde, requested that the court dismiss the case marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/205/3024 due to a lack of jurisdiction in a preliminary objection dated and submitted on March 1.

With reference to Section 6(6)(c) and Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the senior counsel who presented four grounds of argument argued that the claim does not qualify for justiciability.

He made it clear that the plaintiff, Oko, did not have the legal standing to bring the case.

Cases involving or related to the employment of judicial officers are exclusively within the purview of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, per Section 245C(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Kehinde contended that the National Industrial Court of Nigeria possesses exclusive authority to resolve any issue pertaining to the interpretation and application of Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution regarding the employment of judicial officers, as stated in Section 245C(1)(d) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

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Justice Ekwo was informed by Kemi Esene, a litigation secretary at the law practice of Kehinde and Partners, that a comparable case had been dismissed on September 30, 2020, in the document that supported the preliminary objection.

According to her, on June 10, 2020, the former president Muhammadu Buhari and twenty-four others were dismissed from the suit filed by JRP Foundation Ltd, with the case number FC/ABJCS/602/2020.

As far as Esene was concerned, the sult had contested the 21 individuals that the NJC had recommended to Buhari for the position of High Court judge for the FCT.

According to her, the plaintiff had claimed that the FCT Judicial Service Committee had submitted a list of candidates for FCT High Court judge appointments to NJC in bad faith and had abused its authority.

As the plaintiff had no standing to initiate the lawsuit due to her non-participation in the process for the nomination of the judicial officers, the attorney contended that the court’s decision upheld the defendants’ preliminary objection.

The court also ruled that the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction over the case because it concerned the appointment of judges by the previous president based on recommendations from NJC.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Nkemakolam Okoro, informed the court that their client was prepared to move forward with the case when it was called on Thursday.

The initiating summons was submitted by Okoro on February 16, 2024, according to him.

On March 4, he responded to the rebuttal affidavit that was submitted jointly by the FCT CJ, NJC, and CJN, he stated.

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According to him, he responded to their preliminary objection on March 4 by filing a counter affidavit.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs pleaded with the court to grant their full array of reliefs.

Kehinde Akinlolu SAN had all of his processes accepted by Akinola Fasanmi, who represented the Nigerian president and the attorney general, AGF.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Justice Ekwo set a decision date of March 15.

On February 23, the judge denied the plaintiff’s request to halt Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf’s appointment of twelve judges to the FCT High Court bench through an ex-parte motion.

In his decision on Emmanuel Emerenini’s ex-parte request, Justice Ekwo ordered the plaintiff to notify the defendants of the order within two days.

After ordering the defendants to demonstrate cause why the requests on the motion should not be granted on the next adjourned date, Justice Ekwo further ordered the plaintiff, a legal practitioner, to serve the defendants with all suit procedures within two days.

But he did request expedited hearing.

Justice Baba-Yusuf (NJC) and the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) were named as the first three defendants in the plaintiff’s motion.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, the President of Nigeria, and the Attorney General of the Federation are all named as defendants in the case.

Prior to the hearing and decision on his move on notice, the plaintiff asked the court to direct the parties involved in the lawsuit to keep things as they are ante bellum.

Justice Baba-Yusuf, the NJC, and the FJSC consistently ignored and marginalized the Ebonyi people while selecting judges for the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), according to Oko.

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According to the lawyer, it is actually the CJ (Baba-Yusuf) who determines which states in the federation have the most competent lawyers, and then sends that list to the FJSC, which in turn recommends it to the NJC, who in turn suggest it to the President of Nigeria, for appointment as judges of the FCT High Court.

Bauchi, Bayelsa, Enugu, Imo, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Taraba, and Zamfara were the states indicated for the nomination of attorneys to be appointed as judges into the twelve posts, he said.

But he insisted that Ebonyi State does not have a single judge sitting in the FCT High Court, despite the fact that 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.”

“In the interest of justice,” he said, imploring the court to allow their motion.

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