Sola Ojo, Kaduna
The Tangale Community Development Association (TCDA) on Monday night expressed worry over what it described as the deliberate omission of Justice Beatrice Iliya in a nomination list sent to National Judicial Council (NJC) by Gombe State Governor Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya.
The group in a statement by its Public Relations Officer, Rivers State chapter, Moses Lautangle, noted that the Governor had nominated and forwarded the names of Justices Muazu Pindiga and Joseph Awak to the National Judicial Council, NJC, for interview and subsequent appointment/confirmation of either of the two as substantive Chief Judge of Gombe State.
The statement reads:
‘While we recognize the constitutional role of governors in the process of appointing Chief Judges of their respective states, and while in a similar vein we also appreciate the efforts and commitment of His Excellency Alh. Mohammed Inuwa Yahaya towards moving the process of appointing a substantive Chief Judge for Gombe state forward, we are however dismayed that the name of Justice Beatrice Iliya was deliberately omitted from the list.
‘At this juncture, it is important to state categorically that the obviously deliberate and ill-advised omission of Justice Beatrice Iliya’s name from the list of nominees sent by His Excellency to the National Judicial Council for a scheduled interview for the position of Chief Judge of Gombe State is not only a reflection of the orchestrated bias and ill-treatment she has been subjected to since her appointment and clandestine removal as Acting Chief Judge of the state but also represent a disturbing contravention and politicisation of, and an open affront to the extant provisions that recognize “hierarchy” (within the judicial arm) as well as “legal qualifications” as basic requirements for appointment to the office of Chief Judge, all of which Justice Beatrice Iliya had not only met but also earned by virtue of her hard work and long years of meritorious service and dedication to the cause of justice in the state and county at large.
‘Going forward, it is appropriate to factor the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which are unequivocal in their stipulation of the qualifying criteria and subsisting conditionalities for the appointment of Chief Judge of a state. For purpose of clarity, we shall take the pains to quote these constitutional provisions, using same as the basis to fault and question the propriety of His Excellency in excluding the name of Justice Beatrice Iliya from the list of nominees for the position of Chief Judge of Gombe State.
‘First, the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides in Section 270(2) that the High Court of a State shall consist of:
(a) a Chief Judge of the State; and
(b) such number of Judges of the High Court as may be prescribed by a law of the House of Assembly of the State. Furthermore, The Constitution(as amended) states in Section 271(1) “that the appointment of a person to the office of Chief Judge of a State shall be made by the Governor of the State on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to the confirmation of the appointment by the House of Assembly of the State”.
‘From the above, it is clear that these provisions of the Constitution intend that a person shall not be qualified to be appointed to the office of Chief Judge of a State unless he is first and foremost, a Judge of the High Court of the State. And to be a Judge of the High Court of a State, a person “shall be qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and shall have been so qualified for a period of not less than ten years.” By implication, it is right to assume then that the Chief Judge of a State can only be appointed from among the Judges of the High Court of the State.
‘Second, the 1999 Construction(as amended) also stated in section 271(4) that: “If the office of Chief Judge of a State is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the Governor of the state shall appoint the MOST SENIOR(emphasis ours) Judge of the High court to perform those functions.”
‘Now, if the letters and spirit of the Constitution are sacrosanct then it is a valid submission that since only the most senior Judge of the High Court of a State is qualified to be appointed to the office of Chief Judge of the State in an Acting capacity, it then follows logically too that a person who is the most senior Judge of the High Court of a State is the most suitable to be appointed to the office of Chief Judge of that State in a substantive capacity provided it has not been proven that the individual has questionable integrity.
‘Looking at the various Constitutional provisions quoted above and the logical interpretations made thereof, it can be said without a doubt that Justice Beatrice is not only qualified to be nominated as a candidate for the position of Chief Justice of Gombe state but is also by all ramifications the most suitably qualified to be appointed the substantive Chief Judge of Gombe state.
‘With the current development, therefore, we find it not only ridiculous and absurd that Justice Beatrice Iliya who is eminently qualified in both character and learning, who is an active Judge of Gombe State High Court and the most senior Judicial Officer in Gombe state Judiciary and who was deemed qualified to be appointed to serve as Acting Chief Judge did not make the list of nominees for appointment as Substantive Chief Judge.
‘Well for us there can only be one interpretation of the deliberate and calculated exclusion of Justice Beatrice Iliya from the list of nominees for the office of Chief Judge of Gombe State, and it simply a deep-seated political bias that is driven by religious and tribal bigotry as well as the primordial sentiments towards the female gender.
‘And though we cannot arrogate to ourselves the all-knowing power of God, yet we can say with near certainty that the actions, inactions and body language of the powers that be, especially that of His Excellency, are heavily tilted to favour the emergence of Justice Muazu Pindiga as the substantive Chief Judge of Gombe State.
‘As far as we are concerned and without any intent of disparaging the name and reputation of the Honorable Justice Joseph Awak, we, however, see his inclusion as nothing but a calculated manoeuvre to give a semblance of legitimacy to an already compromised process, and at worst it is meant to serve as a damage control mechanism in case the intended plan fails.
‘Having made our submissions on the matter of the politicization of the appointment of the Chief Judge of Gombe State and the attendant but deliberate exclusion of and evident bias against the person of Justice Beatrice Iliya, we wish to humbly call on His Excellency, Alh. Mohammed Inuwa Yahaya to as a matter of urgency toe the line of Justice and fairness and uphold the Oath he has sworn to treat everyone fairly and equally without consideration of gender, tribe or religion.
‘In conclusion, we wish to use this medium to also draw the attention of the Honorable Chief Justice and Chairman of the National Judicial Council to the unfortunate charade that is being perpetrated in the Judicial Arm of Government in Gombe State.
‘We make bold to say that the responsibility of building an egalitarian society belongs to all of us and in the exercise of that responsibility we must not only eschew all forms of bias, sentiments and inordinate ambition but also take a stand to defend every institution of government and salvage them from the predatory claws of power-drunk and greedy individuals.’