On-going Appointment of Judges in FCT already Tarnished by Perceptions of “Insider Dealing” others – Access to Justice writes open Letter to Chief Judge

12th February 2024.

 

Hon Justice Husseini Baba-Yusuf,

Chief Judge, Federal Capital Territory High Court,

Plot 426, Tigris Crescent, Aguiyi Ironsi Street,

Abuja.

 

Your Lordship,

Modify Guidelines on Eligibility of Participating in Current Judicial Recruitment in the FCT High Court: On-going FCT Judicial Selection Process Already Tarnished and Undermined by Perceptions of “Insider Dealing”, Nepotism and Constitutional Violation.

Access to Justice sends you warm greetings.

Your Lordship will recall that on the 18 January 2024, you sent a letter announcing that that twelve (12) positions had opened to be filled in the Federal Capital Judiciary (“FCT”) High Court, and requested nominations to fill the existing positions. Of special interest to observers and the public has been the stipulation added to the announcement that only candidates from twelve (12) States are eligible to be nominated. These States are as follows: Bauchi, Bayelsa, Enugu, Imo, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Taraba, Zamfara.

Access to Justice has two major concerns about this recruitment exercise: first, the public alarm that the recruitment exercise, is, from the outset, designed (as well as influenced by external forces) to lead to certain appointments – which inexorably exposes the selection exercise to charges of nepotism, illicit “insider dealing” and “horse-trading”. Second, we are concerned with ensuring that the outcome of the selection process reflects, in a transparent way, the competitive strengths and merits of all candidates (properly) being considered for the positions.

 

THE STATE OF ORIGIN CRITERIA AND ITS UNLAWFULNESS AND VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTION

There are strident concerns that the 12 States Your Lordship has selected as those from which nominations/applications will be accepted are improperly and unconstitutionally chosen, given the current geo-political composition of the FCT High Court, The FCT High Court is understood to already have two (2) Judges who are indigenes of two of the States included in His Lordship’s list. However, some States, such as Ebonyi, from where no current Judge(s) of the Court come from, are not included in the list, and so, no Judges from that State will emerge from the current recruitment process if Your Lordship follows through with the eligibility guidance announced.

Media reports insinuate that the inclusion of two States (Kogi and Oyo) in His Lordship’s list is designed to enable the Chief Justice of Nigeria and His Lordship to appoint their relatives or children into office. Whether these insinuations are true or not, they reinforce a very disturbing narrative about the increasing role of nepotism alongside “insider dealings” and “horse-trading” in the appointment of Judges and Justices in Nigeria, and deepen the loss of public trust in the justice system. Many people will think that Your Lordship has “gerrymandered” the selection of States from where Judges can be appointed in order to facilitate the appointment of “favoured” candidates at the expense of States whose qualified indigenes are not represented in the court.  Furthermore, Your Lordship’s action may also be unconstitutional as it flies in the face of Sec. 2 of the High Court of The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (Number of Judges) Act 2003 (as amended) and Sec. 14(3) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 as amended.

Going ahead with this judicial appointment cycle using the announced State of origin criteria, notwithstanding these concerns/controversies will further damage the Judiciary’s image, already quite adverse and poor at current standing, and possibly also delay – or even derail – the conclusion of the recruitment process and we urge Your Lordship to modify the relevant parameters for the exercise now.

 

NECESSITY OF ENSURING TRANSPARENT SHORTLISTING PROCESS BASED ON MERIT

The National Judicial Council’s Revised Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the Appointment of Judicial Officers of all Superior Courts of Record 2014 requires the provisional short-listing of candidates for judicial office to be done “on the merits” – Rule 3(4). Public controversies surrounding the current judicial recruitment in the FCT High Court escalate fears that the recruitment process has been turned into a largely pro-forma performance act, rigged to return pre-determined results. In order to assuage these fears, we urge Your Lordship to use an independent, external faculty to conduct the preliminary appraisals of all qualified candidates in this shortlisting exercise. This will increase the credibility and transparency of the exercise and demonstrate that Your Lordship is indeed committed to improving the Judiciary, as you have expressed on many occasions. Some States – like Jigawa State – now use external assessors in drawing up the preliminary shortlists, and this builds public confidence in the outcome of the evaluation.

Lastly, we urge Your Lordship to stand firmly against the violation of the Constitution of Nigeria which he has sworn to defend and enforce, and resist pressures, no matter where they come from, to influence the discharge of his responsibilities. You will recall, Your Lordship, that at the commencement of the 2023/2024 FCT High Court Legal Year, you said:

“It is hard to have faith in a system if you do not understand how it works. This is why I believe it is so important for people to see in demonstrable clarity, how the justice system works”.

 

We now challenge Your Lordship to put those words to effect, and let people see how a transparent, merit-based judicial recruitment system should work.

We thank His Lordship for his consideration.

 

Yours sincerely,

Joseph Otteh

Convener, Access to Justice


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