As controversy continues to trail the recently released list of lawyers nominated by the National Judicial Council (NJC) for appointment as judges, President Muhammadu Buhari has been urged to reject the nomination, as it affects the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The NJC on April 26 this year, made public names of 70 lawyers it recommended for appointment as judges for courts across the country, with the High Court of the FCT having 33 nominees.
Although many have continued to query the fairness of the nomination process, a group, Stand for Rights Initiative (SRi), is concerned with what it described as the deliberate exclusion of Akwa Ibom State from the list of the 33 nominated for the High Court of the FCT.
The group’s position is contained in a petition to President Buhari, dated May 7, 2020 and signed by SRI’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Sunday Esseinekak, a copy of which The Nation sighted in Abuja yesterday.
SRi argued that the absence of nominees from Akwa Ibom State on the list was a violation of the provision of the High Court of the FCT (Number of Judges) Act, 2003, particularly Section 2, which requires that appointment of judges to the court must reflect the federal character principle.
The group contended that the said provision of the High Court of the FCT Act envisaged that, in appointing judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, recourse shall be had to the federal character of Nigeria and that every state of the federation should be equally represented in such appointment.
It said: “Out of the 33 names forwarded to Your Excellency for confirmation by the NJC, none of the candidates is from Akwa Ibom State. Not even one. Where is the fairness and equity which the NJC stands for?
“Currently, it is a fact that the High Court of the FCT has a total number of 35 judges, and that the recommended additional 33 names was to complement the numbers of the judges in line with the 2016 Senate’s amendment of the High Court of the PCT, Abuja (Numbers of Judges) Act. 2003, which pegged the total numbers of judges at 75.
“By this Amended Act, it is our position that each of the states of the federation should produce two judges each in every appointment.
“Surprisingly, what is shocking Mr. President is that the names of candidates from Akwa Ibom State are missing in the list released by the NJC on April 26, 2020.
“This, we state, is intentional to deny Akwa Ibom State its pride of place and relegate the state to the background as it has always been the custom, when it comes to the FCT Judiciary.
“It is worrisome to note that in the list forwarded to your Excellency, the interest of Akwa Ibom State is eliminated in the suspicious appointment, while some states of the federation have more than one judge recommended by the NJC.
“We state that the NJC did not consider the federal character principle in the April 26, 2020 appointment of the judges of the High Court of the FCT, and that same is in violation of the Act of the National Assembly of Nigeria and was not done in respect to the due process of the law.
“Your Excellency, the appointment of judges, as forwarded to your good office, is not fair at all and we beg you to set it aside, as it is coloured with every pigment of national partiality.
“The contributions of Akwa Ibom State to the socio-economic and political life of the corporate existence of Nigeria cannot be overemphasised and as such, it does not deserve to be sidelined and segregated against by a constituted authority.
“We write to urge Your Excellency to reject the list sent by the NJC for confirmation and to order that the NJC should follow the law in the said appointment as it relates to the federal character principle of the federation,” SRi said.