From Godwin Tsa, Abuja

The National Judicial Council (NJC) has suspended the process of appointments of Judges to the Kogi State judiciary.
The decision by the Council is sequel to the pending suit instituted by some Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) from Kogi state against it.

In a letter dated January 10, 2024, addressed to the senior lawyers by the Executive Secretary of the NJC, Ahmed Gambo Saleh, informed them of the suspension of the process.
The letter titled: Re: Notification of the pendency of suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/05/2024, Yunus Ustaz Usman, SAN & 6 Ors. Vs National Judicial Council & 3 ors”, reads:
“I write to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated 10th January 2024 on the above subject matter and to inform you that the National Judicial Council being the apex body in the Judiciary understands that respecting the authority of the court is not only a legal obligation but also a fundamental aspect of maintaining a fair and just legal system. As such, the NJC has always been at the forefront of advocating for respect for the rule of law.

“Thus, I wish to inform you that once a suit is instituted against any appointment process, the Council does put on hold the process, pending the determination of the matter. Consequently, the NJC has put on hold the process of appointment of Judges and Kadis for the Kogi State Judiciary, please.”

In an originating summons marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/05/2024,
the Plaintiffs— Chief Yunus Ustaz Usman, Jubril Okutepa, Patrick Okolo, Abdullahi Haruna, Reuben Atabo, Shaibu Aruwa, and Johnson Usman, are asking for an Interlocutory Injunction,
restraining the defendants, their agents, privies, and servants from fixing dates for interview of the shortlisted candidates as well as from inviting them for any meeting or from performing any other such functions to the subject matter of this suit pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.

Also listed as defendants in the suit pending before the court are: the Kogi State Judicial Service Commission, the Attorney General, and the Commissioner For Justice Of Kogi State as defendants.

They who stated that the list was tainted with ethnic and political interference argued that the selection process violated regulations and constitutional principles of fairness, equity, and merit.

One of the issues raised by the plaintiffs is the inclusion of Governor Yahaya Bello’s wife, Amina, as a proposed High Court judge when she neither has magistrate experience nor meets other requirements.

Apart from the fact that candidates were concentrated from Governor Bello’s Kogi Central district, the Plaintiffs pointed out that the selection of candidates in Kogi State for appointment as Judicial officers to the superior courts of record should be based on “merits, competence, sound knowledge of the law, fairness, equality and geographical spread within Kogi State devoid of ethnic and political considerations”.

The lawyers, however, expressed dismay that despite so many letters had been written on the issue before the court for determination little attention was paid to the complaints.

They cited the letter from NBA Lokoja Branch, lawyers of Okun extraction of Kogi State, which comprise Five Local Government Areas to wit: Ijumu, Kabba/Bunu, Mopamuro, Yagba East, Yagba West, Kogi (Koton-Karfi and Lokoja Local Government Areas), and Igala Youth Leaders Assembly.

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In an Affidavit sworn by one of the plaintiffs, Patrick Okolo, SAN, the Plaintiffs insisted that the NJC guidelines and constitutional clauses governing appointments are mandatory and binding.

“That despite the service of Exhibits 2, 3, 4, and 5 on the 1st and 2nd Defendants, they ignored same and went ahead on 23rd November 2023 to invite the said shortlisted candidates to the Department of State Security (DSS) for screening and on 1st December 2023, the 1st Defendant’s officials went to Kogi State to inspect the facilities such as official cars and office space preparatory for the said appointment.

“That the defendants are now preparing to invite the shortlisted candidates for interview consequent upon which the successful candidates from the interview will be appointed as Judges of the High Court of Kogi State, Judges of Customary Court of Appeal of Kogi State, and Khadis of the Sharia Court of Appeal of Kogi State without further delay from now.

“That the 3rd defendant is bent on the appointment of the said shortlisted candidates as judicial officers of the Superior Courts in Kogi State before leaving office at the expiration of his tenure on 27th January 2024 since his wife; Amina Yahaya Bello Esq was among those shortlisted.

“That the said Amina Yahaya Bello Esq is No. 4 in the shortlisted High Court of Justice List in Exhibit 1.

“That I know as a fact that among the Provisional Shortlisted Candidates for appointment as judicial officers to the High Court of Kogi State are two (2) Women from Kogi Central one of whom is Amina Yahaya Bello, Esq; the wife of the Governor of Kogi State who is not in private practice and not a Magistrate.

“I know as a fact that the said Amina Yahaya Bello, Esq, and other candidates in Exhibit 1 do not have the required number of Judgments of both trial and appellate Courts that qualifies them for appointments as Judges of the superior Courts of records in Kogi State as required by the Rules of the 1st defendant.