33 FCT Judges: Court Fixes July 10 For Hearing Of Suit Challenging Appointment Of 21 Judges
Posted: 03/Jul/2020

Justice Okon Abang of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court will on July 10 commence hearing in a suit seeking to stop the National Judicial Council (NJC) from appointing 21 out of the 33 persons shortlisted as judges in the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The judge fixed the date for hearing after the originating summon with suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/602/2020 was mentioned in court by Pius Owhoavwodua, counsel to the applicant, JRP Foundation Ltd/GTE.

Listed as defendants are the NJC, the Judicial Service Committee of the FCT, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), and the 21 nominees respectively.

The applicants including about 15 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) and some senior members of the bar, had approached the court seeking a declaration “that in its exercise of its constitutional duties to recommend suitable persons to the 2nd defendant as judges of High Court of FCT, Abuja, the 3rd defendant (NJC) must only recommend such persons who have met the criteria and satisfied the conditions set out in the extant Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the appointment of judicial officers in Nigeria made by the 2nd defendant.

“That in exercising its constitutional duties to recommend to the 1st defendant (The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria), from the list submitted by the 3rd defendant, persons to be appointed judges of High Court of FCT, Abuja, the 2nd defendant can only recommend such persons as have met the criteria and satisfied the conditions set out in its extant Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the appointment of judicial officers in Nigeria.

“That the 5th to 25th defendants, having failed to meet the criteria and satisfied the conditions set out in the extant Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the appointment of judicial officers in Nigeria, are not suitable persons for nomination for appointment as judges of High Court of the FCT, Abuja, within the purview of Paragraph 2(1) of Part III of the Third Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.”

Owhoavwodua also urged the court to declare that the Judicial Service Committee of the FCT acted improperly, in bad faith and gross abuse of power vested in it when it submitted the nominations of these persons to the NJC for appointment as judges.

Besides, he urged the court to declare that the NJC “acted improperly by its recommendation to the 1st defendant, from the list of persons submitted by the 3rd defendant, the appointment of the 5th to 25th defendants as judges of the FCT High Court, when they neither met the criteria nor satisfied the conditions set out in its extant Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the appointment of judicial officers in Nigeria.”

The applicant asked the court to declare that in view of this, the affected persons cannot be appointed by the 1st defendant as judges.

The applicant sought the court order to set aside the recommendation of the nominees by the 2nd defendant to the 1st defendant for appointment.

Justice Abang, who noted that the ex-parte application dated June 22 had about 15 SANs, said their counsel prayed the court to serve the originating processes on the 5th to 25th defendants by substituted means through the NJC address.

“According to the plaintiff, the 5th to 25th defendants are persons that the Judicial Service Committee of FCT recommended to NJC for appointment as additional judges of High Court of FCT,” he said.

He said the applicant should have provided the addresses of the defendants on the originating summons as address of service, even though Order 6 of the Federal High Court Procedure Rules allows for substituted means where personal service cannot be effected.

“My lord, I am even wondering why the deputy chief registrar of this court even endorsed this process for filing as it affects the 5th to 25th defendants because their addresses are not there,” he held.

He said the plaintiff cannot sue the 5th to 25th defendants without knowing their addresses.

The judge also wondered if the defendants were employees of the NJC as there was no evidence placed before the court to show this.

Justice Abang, who was of the view that the plaintiff should have sued only the 1st to 4th defendants since it was impossible to get the addresses of the 5th to 25th defendants, however, reluctantly granted the prayer.

He said though he initially planned to dismiss the application for lacking in merit, “but on a second thought, on account of the serious constitutional issues raised by the plaintiff and to ensure that the matter is speedily heard and disposed of, this court reluctantly grants the application.”

Abang, who adjourned the matter till July 10 for hearing, also made an order of accelerated hearing.

He also ordered that hearing notice be issued to the 2nd to 25th defendants.