Who Will Cleanse the Putrid Stench in Nigeria’s Judiciary

Who Will Cleanse the Putrid Stench in Nigeria’s Judiciary

For those familiar with the civil service and indeed, the judiciary, recent revelations in the nation’s judicial system are not unusual. They are fast becoming the norm. Senior judicial officers, in some cases do go on their knees to beg their children to study law while “ensuring they graduate and are called to the Nigerian

For those familiar with the civil service and indeed, the judiciary, recent revelations in the nation’s judicial system are not unusual. They are fast becoming the norm. Senior judicial officers, in some cases do go on their knees to beg their children to study law while “ensuring they graduate and are called to the Nigerian bar” . The judicial lords are conscious of the intellectual capacity of these over-pampered children and are conscious that they may not be successful in private practice, rather they are pushed into the ministry of justice, where they mark time till when they would be made magistrates from where they would be pushed to become judges.

According to Prof. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, a lawyer, former Chairman, Human Rights Commission who now teaches at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the senior-most judges in the Nigerian judiciary have “turned the judiciary into (a) premium job racket for family members.” Putting it succinctly: “for senior judicial figures, the opportunity to plant a child on the bench as a parting gift has become something of a ritual, with judicial appointments timed to coincide with high profile judicial retirements”.

For those who were unable to accomplish generational replacement for themselves on the bench before their retirement, arrangements are made to retrospectively cure the oversight. Hence, for instance, the proposal to translate a daughter of the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), herself currently a relatively junior magistrate in the service of the FCT judiciary, to the High Court Bench.

But it is not only children and spouses of judicial and political higher ups who get planted into judicial sinecures in this way. Mistresses and other partners whose only qualification is closeness with people connected with politics or judicial appointments, also routinely get nominated. A very recent example of this was the case of Madam Amina whose husband Alhaji Yahaya Bello, was the immediate past governor of Kogi state. She is not a magistrate, a court registrar, an academic or a legal practitioner but a dutiful and supportive wife.

But that did not stop the Kogi State Judicial Service Commission headed by Chief Judge, Justice Josiah Majebi, from turning her judicial nomination into a parting gift for her husband. The dream of making her a judge suffered a terrible setback after some leading Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SANs) from the state sued the National Judicial Council (NJC) accusing it of blithely disrespecting its own rules in the Kogi State nominations, the NJC was forced to suspend the process of High Court appointments in Kogi.

The list of children of senior judicial officers who have planted their children on the bench is so long that those keeping the records are beginning to lose count. One notable observation, however, is that there is hardly any past CJN whose children, spouse or relative is far from the nation’s judicial bench.

Here are some of the famous names that readily come to mind: Justice Ibrahim Auta Former CJ FHC( Daughter), Justice Zainab Buchachuwa Former President Court of Appeal (COA)( Daughter),Justice Mary Odili Former Justice Supreme Court (JSC) ( Daughters), Justice Oluseyi Owoeye ( Son) ,Justice Nyako ( Son),Justice Monica Dongban-mensen ( Daughter),
Justice Kayode Ariwoola CJN (Son),Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi (Sons) Justice Olajide Olatawura ( Son), former Chief Judge of Kogi state and ex – administrator of the National Judicial Institute (NJI),Justice Umoru Eri (Son), Justice Ejiwumi (Son)and Justice Umaru Abdullahi. Some of the beneficiaries may have been qualified but their appointment may have been fast-tracked by their connection to persons in high places.

One case that may have raised the dust recently is the nomination of Mrs Victoria Oluwakemi, daughter of the CJN as a judge to the Federal Capital Territory High Court in Abuja. It’s been alleged in the past that the CJN has appointed his relations to high positions under his purview. In July 2023, the CJN was alleged to have nominated his son Olukayode Ariwoola Jnr. as a judge. The CJN also succeeded in getting the National Judicial Council (NJC) to appoint the son as a judge of the Federal High Court.

He was also alleged to have successfully influenced and installed his younger brother, Adebayo Ariwoola, as the Auditor of the National Judicial Council, while his nephew, Lateef Ganiyu, was recently promoted to the Appeal Court. It was reported that the 69 – year – old CJN began lobbying to get a seat his daughter on the bench after he was notified in a January 18, 2024, letter from Justice Husseini Baba-Yusuf, the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, that 12 new positions had opened up in the court.

Justice Baba-Yusuf reportedly urged Justice Ariwoola, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), Prince Lateef Fagbemi and the President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA),Mr. Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, to send candidates drawn from a dozen states.

Investigations, however, revealed that Oyo State already has at least two judges on the FCT High Court bench . They are Justice Mohammed Alhaji Madugu and Justice Ajoke Adepoju from Saki and Ibadan South-West LGAs respectively. An Abuja based legal practitioner Mr. Abdullahi Liman petitioned the CJN over allegation of corruption in the appointment of Federal High Court Judges in 2021 by the National Judicial Council (NJC)

The petition is tagged ” A distress Call To the Honourable Chief Justice Of Nigeria To Tame Corruption in The Appointment of Judges”. In it, Mr. Liman decried the corruption that characterized the appointment of some Federal High Court judges under the former Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Mohammed Tanko.

According to the legal practitioner, he was deeply concerned and agitated by the sundry allegations of impropriety in the appointment of judges to the superior courts in Nigeria, stating that he was moved to forward the complaint in view of the ineptitude of the former CJN in appointing unqualified applicant dropping the qualified applicant.

He said in the recent time the Judiciary, which is the last resort for Justice for the ordinary man, and is being smeared by some political actors “and their hirelings who are deeply aggrieved by the judgements of superior courts on electoral matters”

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” My Lord it is in the light of above, that I decided to write this letter with the sole desire of inviting my Lord’s office to further closely monitor the recruitment process leading to the appointments of judges of superior courts because that is the first port of call of corruption in the Judiciary” he asserted.

He pointed out that to underscore his point, he drew the attention of the chief justice to the recruitment exercise for the appointment of six additional judges of the Federal High Court in 2021.

“My Lord, in 2021, an advertisement for the appointment of six additional judges for the Federal High Court was published inviting qualified persons to indicate their interest.

”My Lord Sir, one Ms Fati Suleiman Takuma from Niger State Judiciary, who among others, indicated interest by applying for appointment and, was shortlisted and invited for interview by the FJSC” he added.

He further disclosed that she passed the interview and her name made it into the approved list, stating that this fact was communicated to her by a member of the interview panel at the FJSC who congratulated her and a member of her family for passing the interview

The approved list according to him was accordingly Forwarded to the National Judicial Council (NJC) and also Ms Fati Suleiman Takuma.

However, due to corruption, an applicant from Niger State who failed the interview and whose name was not on the approved list, was eventually preferred and appointed as a judge of the Federal High Court to the rudest shock of all concerned

“As it is right now, that candidate who failed the interview, and therefore has no business being on the bench is sitting as a judge of the Federal High Court with the attendant foreseeable danger to the efficacy of the administration of justice in Nigeria.

“In 2021, when we were going about our lawful duty, carrying out investigations concerning the appointments, we were harassed, intimidated and threatened for daring to uncover this corruption.”

Meanwhile, a senior officer of the NJC, who pleaded anonymity confirmed that it was indeed the true position, but we were coming late on the matter. To further cover up this act, some officials sought and got a waiver from Mr. President in order for the appointed judges not to pass through the traditional security checks of all security agencies.

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