By Taiye Agbaje
Abuja, Sept. 29, 2020 The Federal High Court, Abuja, has fixed Wednesday, Sept. 30, to deliver judgment in a suit stopping the National Judicial Council (NJC) from appointing 21 out of the 33 persons penciled down as judges in the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Justice Okon Abang gave the ruling, on Tuesday, after taking arguments from counsel representing parties in the suit.
Justice Abang, who described the suit as a matter of urgent national importance, urged counsel to the 5th to 25th defendants and that of the plaintiff, Abdul Ibrahim, SAN, and Benjamin Ojumah respectively to submit to the court registrar details of the cases cited in their arguments.
Naija247news reports that while JRP Foundation Ltd/GTE is the plaintiff in the suit, the NJC, the Judicial Service Committee of the FCT, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), and the 21 nominees are the 2nd to 25th defendants respectively.
The applicant, about 15 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), had, on July 2, in an originating summon marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/602/2020 asked the court to declare “that in its exercise of its constitutional duties to recommend suitable persons to the 2nd defendant as judges of High Court of FCT, Abuja, the 3rd defendant must only recommend such persons as have met the criteria and satisfied the conditions set out in the extant Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the appointment of judicial officers in Nigeria made by the 2nd defendant.
“That in exercising its constitutional duties to recommend to the 1st defendant (The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria), from the list submitted by the 3rd defendant, persons to be appointed judges of High Court of FCT, Abuja, the 2nd defendant can only recommend such persons as have met the criteria and satisfied the conditions set out in its extant Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the appointment of judicial officers in Nigeria.
“That the 5th to 25th defendants, having failed to meet the criteria and satisfied the conditions set out in the extant Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the appointment of judicial officers in Nigeria, are not suitable persons for nomination for appointment as judges of High Court of the FCT, Abuja, within the purview of Paragraph 2(1) of Part III of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.”
The plaintiff also urged the court to declare that the Judicial Service Committee of the FCT acted improperly, in bad faith and gross abuse of power vested in it when it submitted the nominations of these persons to the NJC for appointment as judges.
The applicant asked the court to declare that in view of this, the affected persons cannot be appointed by the 1st defendant as judges.
The applicant sought the court order to set aside the recommendation of the nominees by the 2nd defendant to the 1st defendant for appointment.
Suleiman Jibril, Counsel to 1st defendant (President Muhammadu Buhari), told the court that necessary applications had been filed to counter the plaintiff’s suit.
According to Jibril, the action of the plaintiff is inviting the court to assume the position of the 1st defendant as it affects the duties of the 1st defendant under Section 256(2) of the 1999 Constitution.
He argued that the plaintiff sought to dictate to the 1st defendant on whether to appoint or refuse the appointment of the 5th to 25th defendants.
He said it was the duty exclusive to his client after considering the merit of the nominees’ qualifications sent by the 2nd defendant (NJC).
Jibril urged the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s suit.
Counsel to the 2nd defendant, Mahmoud Magaji, SAN, also urged the court to dismiss the originating summon filed by the applicant with cost.
According to him, it is interesting that the prayer contain in the originating process has completely crash-landed even before take off.
“The prayers tend to elevate the extant procedure and guidelines of appointment of judges to a constitutional status,” he said.
Magaji said the procedure stipulated that a person to be appointed as high court judge must have had at least 10 years in practice.
He argued that any other requirements would only be an addendum.
“It has no constitutional status to persons aspiring to be judges.
“The originating process and the question for determination itself seems to be inviting the court to upgrade the status of guidelines for the appointment of judges to the status of constitutional provision,” he said.
The lawyer, who urged the court to dismiss the suit, sought for an award of N50 million against the defendants.
Also, Counsel to the 3rd defendant, Yunus Usman, SAN, urged the court to dismiss the suit.
Counsel to 5th to 25th defendants, Abdul Ibrahim, SAN, said the plaintiff had inflict injury on his client by filing the suit.
He, therefore, asked for a cost of N50 million against the applicant besides the initial N20 million award sought for all his clients.
He also prayed the court to dismiss the suit.