Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The National Judicial Council (NJC) has been urged to rise up and defend the integrity of the Judiciary in the country against the interfering tendencies by some State Governments, especially as it involves female judicial officers.
The call is contained in a petition to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman of the NJC, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad by the Centre for Public Accountability (CPA).
The petition lamented what it described as unconstitutional process in the selection of a substantive Chief Judge for Gombe State.
Executive Director of CPA, Mr. Olufemi Lawson, in the said petition, drew the attention of the NJC to the “unconstitutional decision of the Gombe State Government, to prevent Honourable Justice Beatrice Illiya from assuming the position of the State’s Chief Judge, in a manner which clearly violates the known conventions and our laws”.
CPA, is a non profit organization working for the promotion of leadership and accountability, by advocating transparency towards the advancement of social rights and good governance.
The group alleged that “the continued refusal of the Gombe State government to allow Honorable Justice Beatrice Illiya is premised on the major reasons of her religion, gender and her Tangale-Waja ethnic background.
“The action of His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Gombe State, Alhaji Inuwa YahaYa is just one of his numerous attempts at desperately seeking to control the judiciary. This desperation has been taken further, with the appointment of Hon. Justice Mua’zu A. Pindiga as a replacement, in clear violation of Section 271 subsection 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
“For the purpose of clarity, Justice Pindiga is by far junior officer to Justice Beatrice Illiya and we sincerely believe his nomination deserves being thrown out, by your noble Council. We firmly believe as Nigerians, that the judiciary being the last hope of the common man, should not be manipulated by politicians, as the case of Gombe State judiciary is an attempt to impose a burden of credibility on the NJC.
“It is worrisome, that Justice Pindiga’s appointment as Acting Chief Judge of Gombe State has been renewed for the fourth time, despite his visible lackluster performance as a judicial officer, coupled with the several corruption allegations surrounding his office.
“It is also sad, that the Gombe State Government has continued to delay the 11th August 2020 directive of your noble Council directing the Gombe State Judicial Service Commission to re-submit names of nominees for appointment as substantive Chief Judge of Gombe State, by doing the right thing of including the name of the most senior judge of the Gombe State High Court of Justice.
“While we strongly believe in the commitment of the NJC, towards protecting the sanctity of the judiciary and by extension, our democracy, we are disturbed by the worrying tendency of some state governments, to truncate the seniority hierarchy in the appointment of Chief Judges.
“The recent cases of Kebbi State involving Hon. Justice Elizabeth Karatu and that of the Cross River State, where the governor arbitrarily prevented the appointment of Justice Akon Ikpeme, before the intervention of your great Council, are just a few that we wish to remind you.
“We believe that the NJC, will in the present situation stand firm to be seen as being fair to all and reject the impression, that it is leaving our women judges, to be vulnerable to political manipulations and machinations of these State Executives” the petition pointed out.
It would be recalled that the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA had in a petition earlier in the year, expressed worry that deep seated discriminations in appointment of judicial officers are more pronounced in the northern part of the county, advising the NJC not succumb to such anachronistic and discriminatory antics.
In a petition forwarded to the NJC then, and signed by its Country Vice-President, Rhoda Prevail Tyoden and National Secretary, Evelyn Membere-Asimiea, FIDA drew the attention of the NJC and in particular, its Chairman and Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Mohammed, to what they described as serious infractions by the Gombe State Judicial Service Commission where a female Judge, Justice Beatrice Lazarus Iliya, is about to be denied elevation to the Chief Justice of the State, ostensibly because of her gender.
FIDA, a body of female lawyers which also promote, protect and preserve the rights of women and children, pointed out that several female Judges who had been appointed as Acting Chief Judges had been denied the privilege of rising to the pinnacle of being named the substantive Chief Judge of affected states and urged the NJC to put a stop such discriminatory and frustrating trend.
FIDA reminded the NJC “that Hon. Justice Beatrice Lazarus Iliya who is the most senior judge in the Gombe State Judiciary was appointed acting Chief Judge, instead of confirming her as the substantive Chief Judge upon the expiration of her acting capacity, two other judges have been nominated and a far junior judicial officer appointed as acting Chief Judge of the State”.
The group stressed that, “FIDA Nigeria is dismayed that the name of Hon. Justice Beatrice Iliya is not one of the nominees. We strongly feel that this action is based on gender discrimination as Hon. Justice Beatrice Lazarus Iliya has proved to have professional competence through her performance as acting Chief Judge of Gombe”.
They insist that the conditions spelt out in Revised Rule 3(6) of the Procedural Rules of NJC required the consideration of the most senior judge for the position of a Chief Judge among other requirements, should be followed to its letters.
They reminded of the NJC of the following, “the case of Hon. Justice Akon B. Ikpeme of the Cross River State Judiciary who, as the most senior judge was denied the appointment to the pinnacle as Chief Judge until NJC under the leadership of Justice Tanko Mohammed intervened and ordered her swearing-in as substantive Chief Judge” of the state, and requested the NJC to intervene in the Gombe State debacle.
“We can go on with several instances of female judges who have been denied elevations and appointments especially as Chief Judge in their State, this is more predominant in the North. We believe these actions are in contravention of Article 2.1.2 of the National Judicial Policy.
“We, therefore, appeal that the policies and rules of this honorable committee guide the recommendation of persons to be appointed Judicial Officers and to call to order State Executive heads to desist from all discriminatory actions in the appointment of judicial officers especially the position of Chief Judge.
“This brazen injustice that is gaining grounds in most States against female Judges who have worked hard and diligently to deserve an elevation is not in the interest of justice and is tarnishing the reputation of the judiciary.
“We, therefore, call on your intervention in the case of the appointment of the Chief Judge of Gombe State and stop the gender discriminatory act of the Governor and injustice against Hon. Justice Beatrice Iliya of the Gombe State Judiciary.
“We are confident that this honourable committee will ensure that equity and justice prevail”.
As a fall out of the above petition and numerous others, the National Judicial Council on August 11, 2020 rejected the submission by the Gombe State Judicial Service Commission, directing that the right thing be done with the inclusion of the most senior judicial officer in the state and same be resubmitted to NJC for consideration.
However, for more than three months since the directive by the NJC, it is becoming very clear that the All Progressive Congress (APC) led government in Gombe State is finding it very difficult to follow the directive of the NJC, or is determined to drag the reputation of the judiciary in the state through the mud.
Another group, the Tangale-Waja Community had also petitioned the NJC earlier in the year, alleging bias against Hon. Beatrice Illiya and as a result of the findings of the NJC, during its meeting on the 11th of August, 2020 rejected the nominations of Justice M.A Pindiga and Justice J.A Awak as preferred and alternative candidates respectively by the Gombe State JSC and directed the Gombe State JSC to do the right thing by re-submitting a fresh nomination including the name of Justice Beatrice Iliya as the most senior High Court Judge in the State
It is over Three Months since the ruling and directive by the NJC to the Gombe State Judicial Service Commission without any headway on the issue.