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New FCT CJ:  Analysts identify forces denying southerners promotion

Experts, analysts and commentators, reacting to the recent appointment of Justice Salisu Garba Abdullahi as Chief Judge of FCT High Court, have frowned at allegation that suggests nepotic appointments of judicial officers of northern extraction into top judicial positions against their southern counterparts.

The analysts drawn from various professional backgrounds in an online intellectual engagement debunked allegation of nepotism leveled against President Muhammadu Buhari over Garba’s appointment, noting that the appointment passed through normal procedure.

Rather, the commentators accused southern politicians, especially governors and other high ranking government officials of hurting the progress of southern career judicial practitioners, adding that the preponderance of the emergence of northern judicial officers over and above their southern counterparts is largely due to lack of strategic planning by people of Southern Nigeria, and partly as a result of harmful political interferences by the region’s politicians.

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In a consensus of opinion, they argued that while the process for promotion of judicial officers at the high, appeal and Supreme Court respectively is anchored on seniority ladder, the south appears not to have clear plans to position their candidates for career progression through clear thinking and strategic decision in a timely manner.

This lack of urgency in strategic and meticulous planning, they further argue, constantly tilts the scale in favour of the north, which have its candidates lined up the leadership progression ladder, while southern judicial candidates are often overripe before they reach such leadership openings.

While the President of the Ijaw Media Forum, Elder Asu Beks thinks that the presidency have the duty of ensuring that top judicial leadership positions are fairly distributed along regional line, Aminu Wanka, a trained lawyer and public servant differs, saying windows of promotion in the judicial system is based on firm and structured procedures and maintained by the Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC).

Wanka blamed the apparent domination of Nigeria’s judicial leadership position to lack of planning by the south, even as he identified unwarranted political interferences as a further barrier working against the chances of judicial officers from the south.

He said appointments of judges are not the duty of the president or governor and accused those making such claim as speaking from the point of ignorance. He advised that rather than peddle ignorance, concerned southerners should engage in critical planning, and realistic decision to upturn the existing default; noting that the scenario will remain unchanged until the issue is approached with open mind, driven by clear choices.

“Don’t you know that no President or Governor has the power to appoint a judge in Nigeria? Don’t you know that there is a hierarchy in the Judiciary and the justices are chosen on a pecking order?”, he queried, and explained that the only duty incumbent on the president or governor is to transmit the name of any judge duly recommended by the National Judicial Council to the Senate or State House of Assembly for confirmation.

Wanka further explained that Garba’s confirmatory exercise was transmitted to the Senate since the Senate is akin to the State House of Assembly for the FCT; and is therefore the approving authority for anything that ordinarily is required to be approved by a State House of Assembly.

“The FCT Judiciary is particularly peculiar in the sense that there is no Governor. It is therefore insulated from a lot of politics. You remember the case of Cross River State recently? When the CJ was about to retire, the NJC recommended the next in line to the Governor who rejected her because she was from Akwa Ibom married to a Cross River man. The NJC put it’s foot down and warned other justices not to even act as CJ.  The Governor had to eventually transmit her name to the State House of Assembly.

“The Chief Judge of Bauchi State is an Igbirra (from Kogi) married to a Bauchi man.  An lgbo woman married to the former NBA President was the Chief Judge of Kano State because she was the one recommended by the NJC, and the Governor had no option but to recommend her to the House of Assembly.

“So, this is a structured arrangement, not about Buhari, the appointment of judges is fairly insulated from politics. If you check the Supreme Court (posting), it was only late Justice Ngwuta that stayed long on the Bench from the South. Yet, he met justices from the North that are much younger than him. Strategic planning is key. For instance, as soon as the current CJN had a Ph.D, the Bauchi State Government nominated him to the Court of Appeal in his late 40s, because he had potential for growth and see where he is. You don’t see this in the South.

“People like Justice Lawal Uwais went to the Supreme Court when he was 48. Justice Muhammad Bello was younger. Most judges from the South go in their 60s because of intense politicking and belly aching. Justice Niki Tobi taught me at University of Maiduguri and went to the Court of Appeal in his 60s because of the politics of the then Rivers State. Justice Oputa had the same problem in the former Imo State. Look at Justice Bode Rhodes Vivour that just retired from the Supreme Court, the same thing.

“But Mary Odili was nominated at a relatively young age due to political considerations and no Rivers politician complained that she is from Imo State. But it is easy to create a bogey man that all would be blamed on. This thing has nothing to do with Buhari, it has to do with your choices as a people. You have to live with the responsibility for your decisions.”

The intellectually inclined and fiery Wanka said what the north has in abundance is strategy and clear choices. He did not hide his disdain for the south which he accused of a nauseating inability to agree among itself, poor thinking and the penchant to blame the north for its own failures, always.

“And in the North, we always make clear choices. When Bauchi State had no Minister during OBJ’s military stint, the bargain they had was that there was a CBN Deputy Governorship vacancy that should be given to the State. Abdulqadir Ahmed was nominated at 34 to fill it because they knew he would go far and he did.

“Ogun State nominated a man in his 60s as CBN Governor then. So, it is a matter of people denying themselves their best.”

Contributing, Captain E.  Warredi , a maritime security expert and consultant put the blame squarely on the inability of Southern Nigeria to aggregate their potential in the importance business of securing leadership position in the judicial system.

Like Wanka, Warredi bemoaned the absence of participatory structure by southerners to exploit the succession window in the appointment of judges, through either wrong preparations and or, lack of preparation.

He said, “Some people don’t understand how it works. And it’s best they are educated about the process. The problem is that instead of most Southern States to nominate their younger ones up, they send in aged ones who hit retirement age before they get to that level.

“When we tell them catastrophic consequences of state politicking at certain levels sets doom for the future, they never listen. Using vital positions to reward cronies is at your own peril.”

Warredi blamed lawyers for failing to educate the society or share knowledge (on this issue), as a result, generation to come have no other way of knowing but to pass blame on the innocent.

“We can blame anyone till the cows come home; there’ll be no milk to drink. You have to go and milk that cow.”

Also speaking on the matter, social crusader and resource person, Chief C. Okorefe said  where the South is playing politics and getting it wrong, the North is savvy about it a productive strategy to retain strong foothold in the judiciary leadership.

“Our governors in the south always tinker selfishly with the judiciary. For instance, my late father-in-law was next in line to succeed Justice Omo-Agege as the CJ of Delta state. But because of “bad belle” they didn’t want the man to succeed him. Instead he forwarded his name to the Court of Appeal so that his preferred candidate would succeed him, and the system allowed it.

“Meanwhile this man had only five years to serve at the Appeal court because of his age. This hubris is replicated across the South and that is why our judges always get to the Supreme Court at very old age. It is a very sad commentary. Buhari did not cause this but our very selfish governors.”

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