Controversial Court of Appeal Appointment: Group drags NJC, PCA, others to Court
An Igbo socio-cultural group, Alaigbo Development Foundation has filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Abuja, seeking an order stopping the ongoing appointment of Justices of the Court of Appeal.
The group contended that the imbalance, lopsided distribution of federal amenities and offices and marginalisation of Nd’Igbo in Nigeria have now ascended to unbearable and alarming proportions and most surprisingly even in the hallowed temple of justice.
According to them, Nd’Igbo should no longer continue to fold their hands while things that are rightfully and legitimately due to them are taken away and given to other zones.
The defendants in the suit includes the National Judicial Council (NJC), Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC), President of the Court of Appeal, Federal Character Commission (FCC) and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) as 1st to 5th defendants respectively.
The plaintiff, through its lawyer, Max Ozoaka argued that the on-going exercise for the appointment of Justices of the Court of Appeal, the South East Zone is rightfully entitled to three slots in direct replacement of the three vacancies in that Court arising since 2020 from the retirement and death respectively of two Justices of the Court from the zone and the earlier elevation to the Supreme Court of one Justice from the zone.
It is regrettable that rather than directly replace/fill these three vacancies with candidates from the South East as is the norm and practice in the Court, the South East was allocated just one slot while their other two slots are given to other zones. This is against the spirit and intent of the constitutional provisions of Secton 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
According to them, the prevailing belief that Chapter 2 of the Constitution is not justiceable is a fallacy, and will be established in the course of the hearing of the ADF’s suit.
In the suit with No. FHC/ABJ/CS/347/2021, anchored on Affidavit of 34 paragraphs, the Plaintiff, ADF, is asking the honourable Court to determine some recondite constitutional questions bothering on Section 14 of the Constitution, inter alia.
Part of the Originating Summons reads as follows:
Questions for determination:
1. Having regard to the oath of office of the Defendants to uphold the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, and the true intendment of Section 14 (3) and other relevant provisions of the Constitution, whether the Defendants can completely ignore, disregard or infringe at will the principles of justice, fairness, equity, due process and federal character in the on-going exercise of appointment of Justices of the Court of Appeal, particularly with regard to the South East Zone of the Federation.
2. Having regard to the principles of equity and good conscience and the true intendment and purpose of the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, is the South East Zone of the Federation not entitled in the on-going exercise of appointment of justices of the Court of Appeal to 3 (three) new slots in the bench of the Court in direct replacement of the vacancies occasioned and existing in the bench of the Court arising from the elevation, retirement and death of three justices of the Court from that Zone.
If the answers to the above Questions are in favour of the Plaintiff, the Plaintiff seeks the following Reliefs:
1. A declaration that the action of the Defendants, particularly the 1st 2nd and 3rd Defendants, in allocating one slot only to the South East Zone of the Federation in the on-going exercise of appointment of the Justices of the Court of Appeal is unjustifiable, unfair, inequitable and contrary to the true intendment of the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended and ipso facto unconstitutional, unlawful, null and void.
2. A declaration that the South East Zone is entitled to three new slots in the on-going exercise of appointment of the Justices of the Court of Appeal in direct replacement or filling of the vacancies in the bench of the Court of Appeal currently existing in the South East Zone which arose from the elevation, retirement and death of three justices of the Court from the Zone.
3. An order of the Honourable Court restraining the Defendants, especially the 1st 2nd and 3rd Defendants from continuing the on-going exercise of appointment
4. An Order of the Honourable Court compelling the Defendants to replace or fill the three vacancies in the South East slots in the Court of Appeal bench by appointing three new Justices of the Court in the on-going appointment exercise in direct replacement or filling of the three existing vacancies in the South East slots.
5. And for such further or other order/s as the Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances of this case.
Joined as Defendants in the suit are the National Judicial Council, the Federal Judicial Service Commission, the President of the Court of Appeal, the Federal Character Commission and the Attorney General of the Federation.
The Plaintiff also filed a motion on notice for an Order of Interlocutory injunction to restrain the Defendants/ Respondents from proceeding with the on-going exercise of appointment of Justices of the Court of Appeal pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit already filed.
Hearing date is yet to be fixed.
It will be recalled that the ADF, led by the indefatigable Prof. T. U. Nwala, had, on 15th March, 2021, written a letter to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and another to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, urging them to intervene to correct the imbalance.
The group noted that failure to act on or reply to the ADF letter precipitated the suit.
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