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Appointment Of Supreme Court Justices: Access To Justice Drags NJC,/FJSC, Others To Court


ABUJA, NIGERIA - On October 22 and 23, 2019, several print and electronic media reported the meeting convened by the National Judicial Council to consider nominees for appointment to the Supreme Court of Nigeria. 

Regardless of their persistent defiance of the 2014 Appointment Guidelines, the National Judicial Council at these meetings recommended four Justices of the Court of Appeal - Justices Adamu Jauro, Emmanuel A. Agim, C. Oseji and Helen M. Ogunwumiju- for elevation and appointment as Justices of the Supreme Court.

On Tuesday 27th November 2019, Access to Justice filed a legal action against the Federal Judicial Service Commission, and the National Judicial Council. 

The action with suit no. FHC/ABJ/CS/1460/2019 filed at the Abuja division of the Federal High Court also names Justice Tanko Muhammed, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Senator Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan, the President of the Nigerian Senate and President Muhammadu Buhari, as respondents to the suit. 

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Access to Justice by Messrs. Jude Ogodi and Joseph Otteh Esq. (counsel), is the latest in a series of steps taken by the Applicant (A2Justice) as part of a longstanding advocacy to reform judicial appointment processes in Nigeria and ensure that judicial selection procedures are conducted transparently, competitively and are merit-based as well as meet required standards of integrity. 

More particularly, that judicial appointment processes comply faithfully with the provisions of the National Judicial Council’s Extant Revised Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the Appointment of Judicial Officers of All Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria (2014) and the National Judicial Policy 2016. 

These two instruments were, incidentally, made and adopted by the National Judicial Council. 

The lawsuit alleges that the FJSC, the 1st Respondent and the NJC (the 2nd Respondent), failed to both comply and ensure compliance with the established judicial appointment procedures, and, in fact, circumvented aspects of those procedures which make the recruitment process transparent, fair, merit-based and competitive and further failed to disclose information that would enable interested persons monitor how the recruitment exercise was done.  

The 2014 Judicial Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the Appointment of Judicial Officers and the 2016 National Judicial Policy both made far-reaching changes to previous judicial recruitment systems that were characterized by lack of transparency, opacity, lack of a level-playing field, influence-peddling and nepotism. 

The 2014 Judicial Appointment Guidelines and the 2016 National Judicial Policy prioritize and promote values of transparency, openness, merit and the availability of equal opportunity to all persons interested in judicial offices. 

Both instruments intend, in other words, to provide a level playing field for all eligible persons interested in serving in judicial offices, whether they are currently serving as judges/justices, are in private practice or in academic institutions of learning. 

The reliefs sought by the suit include, in summary form: 

Declarations that the 1st Respondent (Federal Judicial Service Commission) did not fully, and in materials particular comply with the aforesaid Judicial Appointment Guidelines, particularly with respect to making a public call for expressions of interest in the vacant positions and notifying the Nigerian Bar Association of the vacancies and calling for nominations before it drew up a list of candidates it submitted to the National Judicial Council for the latter’s consideration for appointment as Supreme Court Justices which the National Judicial Council considered at its meeting of the 22nd and 23rd October, 2019 and;

AN ORDER of the Honourable Court quashing the list of candidates submitted by the Federal Judicial Service Commission (1st Respondent) to the 2nd Respondent (National Judicial Council) for consideration as Supreme Court Justices.

BACKGROUND TO THE ACTION

In June 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari made a public request for the appointment of more Supreme Court Justices. 

In the wake of this request, the Chief Justice of Nigeria/Federal Judicial Service Commission, commenced the process for the recruitment and appointment of additional Justices of the apex court. 

Several attempts by Access to Justice to ascertain the extent of compliance of the Respondents with the 2014 National Judicial Council Guidelines for the Appointment of Judicial Officers using the Freedom of Information Act drew blank as the Respondents failed to respond to its enquiries relating to the process adopted for the selection of potential appointees. 

The Federal Judicial Service Commission chose to conduct its recruitment in an opaque and unaccountable manner, in outright violation of the 2014 Appointment Guidelines.

The Applicant, Access to Justice, has been working towards reform of Nigeria’s Judiciary and advocating for a strong, independent, impartial, transparent and accountable Judiciary. 

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