Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Court of Appeal is embroiled in crisis as a result of scheming over who replaces Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa as the president of the court. She retires from office in the next coming months.
The situation is capable of throwing the nation’s judiciary into the kind of crisis witnessed during the feud between the late Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Katsina Alu and former president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami.
The crisis was occasioned by Justice Salami’s refusal to be elevated to the Supreme Court and claim that the former CJN was interfering in the Sokoto governorship election case that was before the Appeal Court.
The episode, which sparked court battles and allegations of disregard for court orders by custodians of such orders, turned out amongst the most bitter in the annals of Nigeria’s judiciary history.
Investigation by Daily Sun has revealed that present crisis at the appellate court is occasioned by an attempt to stop the next most senior Justice of the Court, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem from becoming the next president to favour of Justice Muhammad Garba.
Already, her name has been sent to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for promotion to the bench of the Supreme Court.
She is expected to appear for an interview tomorrow alongside Justice Muhammad Garba, whose name is also on the list.
Daily Sun, however, learnt that the decision to promote her to the Supreme Court is ill-intended as it is laced with ethnic, political and religious colouration.
Besides, according to sources, the inclusion of Justice Garba’s name for the interview is a mere gimmick as the main target for the job is Justice Dongban-Mensem, a Christian from Plateau State, who is currently the presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Enugu division.
According to a document by the National Judicial Council (NJC), Committee on Interview for Appointment of Judicial Officers into the Supreme Courts of Records dated September 17, Dongban-Mensem and Garba were among the six that made the list. Others are Adamu Jauro, Emmanuel A. Agim, Biobeli A. Georgewill and Helen M. Ogunwumiju, while on the reserve are Ridam M. Abdullahi, Tijani Abubakar, Abdu Aboki, Rita Pemu, C. Oseji and Justice O.K. Oyewole.
Daily Sun was told that Justice Dongban-Mensem was stopped from becoming a Justice of the Supreme Court many years ago by some forces within the judiciary.
Justice Muhammad Garba was Chairman of the five member presidential election petition tribunal that dismissed the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, against the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Daily Sun was told by credible sources that the clandestine plot to scheme out Justice Dongban-Mensem became glaring after the President of the court, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa withdrew from the presidential panel as its chairman.
“Under normal circumstances, Justice Dongban-Mensem was supposed to head the panel after the exist Justice Bulkachuwu from the presidential election petition tribunal panel, by virtue of her position as the next most senior Justice of the appellate court.
“Some Justices of this Court (Court of Appeal), were surprised by the decision to by-pass Justice Monica for Justice Garba, who is her junior on the bench of the Court.
The plot which has ethnic and religious colouration, according to sources, is to preserve the leadership of the judiciary in favour of a particular religion.
The last time a Christian attained the position of the President of the Court of Appeal was between 1976 to 1978, under Justice Daniel Onuorah Ibekwe. It is the North East and North West that have been heading the Court of Appeal.
Another source who spoke urged the CJN to intervene and save the judiciary another crisis.
“The CJN should immediately intervene to avert another crisis in the judiciary except we are to believe that now is payback time for Justice Garba for doing a “wonderful job” at the tribunal.