From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal on Friday dismissed the suit filed against the National Judicial Council (NJC), by the South-Eastern group, Alaigbo Development Foundation challenging alleged lopsided appointment of Justices of the Court of Appeal.
Justice Inyang Ekwo who delivered the judgment declined jurisdiction to entertain the matter on there grounds that the plaintiff lacked the requisite locus standi to initiate and maintained the action.
The judge upheld the preliminary filed by counsel to the respondents who had prayed the court to dismiss the suit for lacking in merit.
But in a swift reaction, counsel to the plaintiff, Max Ozoaka has vowed to challenge the judgment at the Court of Appeal.
In suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/347/21, the Incorporated Trustees of the foundation sued the NJC, Federal Judicial Service Commission, President of the Court of Appeal, Federal Character Commission, and the Attorney-General of the Federation as 1st to 5th defendants respectively.
The group asked the court, in its originating summons, to determine whether the defendants can disregard the principle of fairness, due process, and federal character in the appointment of judges to the Court of Appeal, with regards to the South-East Zone of Nigeria.
It also asked the court to determine whether the South-East was not entitled to three slots in the ongoing appointment of judges to the Court of Appeal to fill up the vacancies that were caused by the elevation, retirement, and death of the three justices of the Court of Appeal from the zone.
The group prayed the court to declare the actions of the NJC, FJSC, and the President of the Court of Appeal as unjustifiable and unconstitutional for only allocating one slot to the South East.
It also prayed the court to declare that the zone was entitled to three slots in the ongoing appointment exercise and restrain the defendants from continuing with the exercise until the South East is accorded their rightful slots.
However, Justice Ekwo in his judgment held that the plaintiff having registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) under Part A of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), 2020, as a foundation acted in ultra vires his objects by bringing the suit.
He particularly noted that under section 823(1) of CAMA, as a foundation, it has exceeded the perimeters of a foundation by filing the usit.
Justice Ekwo held that contrary to the submissions canvassed the plaintiff, there is no provisions under Part A of CAMA the cloth the plaintiff with the locus standi to engaged itself in public interest litigation.
“The plaintiff can only concern itself with the affairs of it’s members. It has no business of persons who are not it’s members.
“The action of the plaintiff in bringing this action ultra vires the provisions of CAMA and it’s set aims and objectives.
“The Corporate Affairs Commission would have refused to register the plaintiff under Part A off CAMA if it would stated that part of it’s object was to engage in public interest litigation.
“A body registered under part A of CAMA is bound by it’s objects. Anything outside it’s objects is ultra vires. When the law does not authorized the doing of an act, doing otherwise becomes an act of illegality.
The court held that the plaintiff ought to have concentrated itself with it’s aims and objections which includes charitable and fund raising for it’s members.
But counsel to the NJC (first defendant), Paul Usoro, SAN, while arguing his preliminary objection, prayed Justice Ekwo to decline jurisdiction in the matter on the grounds that the plaintiff lacked locus standi (legal right) to institute the action.
Usoro told the court that the plaintiff was an Igbo socio-cultural organisation and that the aims and objectives of the group did not include instituting cases of public interest. The senior lawyer further disagreed on the premise that photocopies of certificates of incorporation of the group certified by a court registrar were tendered.
He averred that only officials of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) were empowered to certify such documents and urged the court to dismiss the case.
Corroborating Usoro’s argument, counsel to the second and third defendants, Yakubu Maikyau, SAN, urged the court to refuse to entertain the matter. He argued that Section 20 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) did not permit the group to embark on instituting such an action.