From Olanrewaju Lawal, Birnin Kebbi
Three suspended magistrates of the Kebbi State Judiciary have linked their ordeals to the interest they showed in vacancies in the High Court for position of judges.
Back on October 14, 2022, the Chief Registrar of High Court, Kebbi State Judiciary, Hussainin Abdullahi Zuru, had announced the suspension of Chief Magistrate Mustapha Umar Maccido and Chief Magistrate Umar Salihu Kokani.
While Maccido was suspended for allegedly absconding and being involved in private practice, Kokani was suspended for allegedly slapping a State Counsel, Abdullahi Bawa Dan Bauchi. The only female judicial officer among them, Magistrate Halima Umar, was also suspended for granting bail to a cattle rustler.
Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Magistrate Maccido, in an interview with newsmen in Birnin Kebbi lamented that they were forced to speak with journalists because the authorities concerned had hurriedly rushed to the media to tarnish their image, instead of resolving the issues without letting the public know.
His words: “All these problems were as a result of our showing interest to be elevated to the position of judges to fill vacancies in the High Court. All the allegations against us were not true. Just last week Monday, Magistrate Halima Umar, a female magistrate was suspended for allegedly granting bail to a cattle rustler. Rustling of cattle is a capital offence, which carries 14 years imprisonment without bail, over which she has no jurisdiction at all.
“But all these are camouflage, they are not true. There are multiple issues linking to all these. The most important issue is that myself, Chief Magistrate Kokani and Magistrate Halima, we all expressed our interest in being elevated to the High Court, which is our right. And the rules of the National Judicial Council, NJC, are very clear. In the 2014 NJC guidelines for the appointment of Judiciary officers requires that there should be advertisement of the existing vacancies in the High Court. Also, the same guideline requires that you must send the advertisement to the 36 states of the federation, notifying all the indigenes of Kebbi State in each state to show interest in the vacancies. Through this channel, we can come out with the best candidates for the positions.
“So, what happened was that they didn’t comply with the guideline of the NJC which stated that they must advertise the vacancies. They just pasted a tiny paper in one corner at the Kebbi State High Court headquarters, Birnin Kebbi and pasted another one at the Shariah Court of Appeal where there is no lawyer. They didn’t serve any copy to the Chairman of Nigeria Bar Association, Kebbi State; they didn’t serve a copy to the Chairman of the Magistrates Association of Nigeria (MAN), Kebbi State, they didn’t serve any private legal practitioner. So, they didn’t advertise the vacacies as recommended by the NJC guideline.
“So, with this, we believed that the Chief Judge of Kebbi State had violated the NJC guideline, and that invalidated the process. Not only that, the advertisement process should also last for 21 days. But they pasted their advertisements on October 5 and removed it on October 6, and the deadline given in the advertisement was October 7 for interested candidates. That means, only one day of grace was given to replace 10 retiring judicial officers. This means that process was fraudulent. All our suspension and recalling happened because we applied for the vacancies. That is the only reason. Because, coincidence, this could not just happened. I applied, he applied and she applied and we are the only persons facing these suspensions and recalling tussle.”
Maccido further disclosed that the case of the accused person who was allegedly beat up, Chief Magistrate Kokani was still before a competent Court in Birnin Kebbi, and stressed that they would continue with the case to ensure justice was done to their colleague.
He disclosed that against the law and rules, Chief Magistrate Kokani was compelled to appear before a committee made up of NBA lawyers, who usually appear before him in Court, just to ridicule him. He stressed that at the end, the report was rejected because the committee did not find him guilty.
“Out of anger, the Chief Judge directed the Chief Registrar to quickly invite the press to publish their side of the story. That is very dangerous. I thought, by now, they would have withdrawn their statement, considering the fact that the allegation against m of involving in private practice had not been proven yet and I had not absconded. I am here in the state, how could I absconded?
“He should have set up a committee to investigate me if truly they want to do justice and prevent the reoccurrence of such. But what we saw was a Kangaroo committee. The Chief Judge ought to have set up a committee made up of senior judicial officers not lawyers.
He, however, appealed to the NJC and other stakeholders to intervene in the matter in order to protect the Judiciary from being rubbished.