Foremost Non Governmental Organization championing the crusade for Judicial reform in Nigeria, Access to Justice, has written a strongly worded petition to the National Judicial Council, NJC, to cancel the ongoing process of appointing new Judges in Abia State for not being in conformity with the NJC rules of appointment of new Judges.
In the petition signed by the President and Secretary of the Organization, Chinyere Umelo and Emeka Amadi and sighted by BarristerNG.com, the group decried the process as being tainted with corruption, shielding of notoriously corrupt magistrates and extortion of applicants to the tune of N400 thousand Naira Each.
The Organization urged the NJC to cancel the corruption ridden process and order an immediate investigation of their petition by an unbiased and dispassionate panel to consider the allegations of corruption and manipulations surrounding the entire process.
SEE THE FULL PETITION BELOW:
NATIONAL JUDICIAL COUNCIL (NJC)
IMMEDIATE CANCELLATION OF THE 2022 ONGOING ABIA STATE JUDGESHIP APPOINTMENT EXERCISE FOR NON COMPLIANCE WITH THE NJC REVISED GUIDELINES & PROCEDURAL RULES 2014 AND DUE PROCESS OF THE LAW.
We are a Non-governmental organization saddled with the responsibility of monitoring transparency, accountability and appointments of officials within the judicial arm of government at all levels.
We wish to register our grievances as it relates to the above caption. We are utterly disappointed and embarrassed that despite the cancellation of the Abia State Judgeship Appointment Process of 2021 on grounds of bribery scandal and fraudulent activities carried out by members of the Abia State Judicial Service Commission (AJSC), the Commission has this time around, failed to follow due process of law by its defiant refusal to strictly comply with the NJC GUIDELINES & PROCEDURAL RULES 2014 in the ongoing 2022 Judgeship Appointment exercise for Abia State. In fact, the entire process is again flawed in that:
The commission called for expression of interest for 5 judges as approved by the Council in 2021 and thereafter published a list of 6 candidates shortlisted in a the provisional list dated 29/4/22 for that purpose. See attached list for ease of reference. That the said provisional list which has now been purportedly sent to the council as the final list for further processing and approval DID NOT COMPLY WITH THE REQUIREMENTS of Rule 3 (4) NJC GUIDELINES & PROCEDURAL RULES 2014 which provides thus … “soon after the closing date for the receipt of the application and or nominations, the Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission /committee concerned shall make a provisional shortlist on the merits CONSISTING OF NOT LESS THAN TWICE THE NUMBER OF JUDICIAL OFFICERS INTENDED TO BE APPOINTED AT THE PARTICULAR TIME…” A look at the said provisional list attached clearly shows that only 6 candidates as against 10 candidates which should amount to twice the number of (5) judges approved by the council for the Abia State Judgeship Appointment was published which is a clear departure and total disregard to strict compliance with the Rules and thus renders the said provisional list incompetent and entire process flawed.
That our private investigation/source from within the Commission has it that the incompetent provisional list which has now been submitted to the Council as final list was upgraded to 8 Judicial Officers purportedly approved by the Council for Judicial appointment and no longer 5 Judicial officers and that 13 candidates instead of 16 candidates to meet up with the requirements of the Rules were PRIVATELY SHORTLISTED which created misunderstanding among members of the Commission in one of their meetings especially as some member of the Commission are not aware of the exact number of Candidates sent to the Council till date. The leadership of the Commission has refused to disclose the status of the manipulated incompetent list to the Commission and neither has it stated either by any circular whether the Council indeed approved the purported 8 judicial officers as against the original 5 proposed earlier for appointment by the Council which renders the entire ongoing process defective and flawed having grossly violated the requirements of the NJC REVISED GUIDELINES AND PROCEDURAL RULES 2014,particularly Rule 2(1)(3)(4) which provides …whenever the Chairman of a State Judicial Service Commission proposes to embark on the process for appointment of candidates to Judicial office in the State NOTICE shall be sent to a Governor of State ….(3)… a copy of the NOTICE shall be forwarded to the Secretary of the NJC(4)… that upon consideration of the advice ,the Chief Justice/Chairman of the NJC shall NOTIFY THE CHAIRMAN OF THE STATE JUDICIAL SERVICE COMMISSION not to proceed or proceed with a specified number..(5)…The DECISION OF THE NJC shall be final unless reviewed. We are saying that the manipulated provisional/ final list of 8 judicial officers was not approved by the NJC. However assuming without conceding it was approved there WAS NO CIRCULAR TO THAT EFFECT AND OR A REQUEST FOR COMMENTS ON THE SUITABILITY OR OTHER WISE OF THE PURPORTED CANDIDATES THEREIN BY ALL THE SERVING AND RETIRED JUDICIAL OFFICERS, THE 4 BRANCHES OF THE ABIA STATE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION AND EVEN AMONG MEMBERS OF THE COMMISSION AS PROVIDED by RULE 3(4I-IV) OF THE NJC REVISED GUDELINES AND PROCEDURAL RULES 2014 and therefore renders the entire process so far flawed. Except for the leadership of the Commission, all the relevant stakeholders as envisaged by the said Rule are completely oblivious of this manipulated final list sent to the Council which is awaiting further processing and approval.
We are convinced and certain that if the purported final list sent to Council by the commission is sent to the relevant stake holders it will generate alot of unpleasant reactions and disapproving comments and will certainly reveal the levity to strict compliance with the NJC Rules by the Commission in the ongoing exercise. Furthermore, it will show the heinous schemings within the Commission especially to protect and ensure the appointment of certain candidates of questionable characters known to most Judges, Magistrates and Lawyers who are now being shielded from their scrutiny. Indeed some of these candidates have several petitions against them ranging from falsification of age to remain in office, falsification of academic qualifications, deposing to different affidavits on same facts, embezzlement of public funds, impersonation and conversion of exhibits tendered in court for personal use and of particular note and based on our findings from our source within the judiciary are but not limited to one Chief Magistrate Elekeson Samuel Elekezie and Chief Magistrate Victoria Okey Nwokeukwu who are riddled with several petitions with panels of investigation set up to investigate them but unfortunately this have been scuttled and shielded by some members of the Commission. We are also privy of a 38 page Petition written by two retired Magistrates namely His Worship Chief Magistrate Chijioke Nwogu and His Worship Chief Magistrate N.E IBE addressed to the Council which also exposed the fraud in the ongoing exercise. In fact, some of the shortlisted candidates are complicit and linked with the bribery scandal which led to the cancellation of the earlier exercise of 2021, which are FACTS within the knowledge of the Commission. This is a desecration of the Nigeria justice system and an affront to the sensibilities of Nigerians who knew how that brazen corruption scandal rocked the integrity of the Abia State Judiciary and that of the nation at large. We therefore urge the Council not to condone such travesty in the Judiciary no matter whose ox is gored. The inclusion of these candidates with questionable characters in the ongoing process and the push for their emergence as Judges is flagrant violation of RULE 4(4ii a-i) of NJC REVISED GUIDELINES AND PROCEDURAL RULES 2014 and also renders the entire process flawed and liable to be nullified.
Due to the illegality associated with the process which is heavily shrouded in secrecy, the purported provisional/final list have been made inaccessible not only to the relevant stake holders but to some members of the Commission who may resist such manipulations.
Our source from the Judiciary also revealed to us that one of the shortlisted candidates in the person of His Worship Elekeson Samuel Elekezie who was unsuccessful and rejected in the last interview conducted by the Council in the year 2020 is also one of the shortlisted Candidates in the purported final list sent to the Council for approval by the Commission which contravenes RULE 6(4&5) OF THE NJC GUIDELINES AND PROVISIONAL RULES which provides that”..Such a candidate once rejected at the interview shall not be presented to the council for at least another 2 years or any such period as the council may direct”. The same name of Elekeson Samuel Elekezie also featured in the 2011 cancelled process .See candidate no.5 on the attached list of 15 shortlisted candidates in the 2011 exercise, for ease of reference.
We wish to state that the continuous brandishing of the incompetent and flawed provisional /final list of 28/4/2022 by the leadership of the Commission as the final list when the said list has been secretly manipulated and same sent to the Council for approval is highly condemnable. Furthermore the removal of certain candidates in place of other preferred candidates who are unknown to the relevant stake holders also contravenes the Rule 3 of NJC RULES and thus a fundamental breach in the entire process.
The Abia State Judicial Service Commission has again extorted the sum of N400, 000, 00 (four hundred thousand naira only) from each of the candidates shortlisted to enable the said candidates make the purported provisional /final list which list the leadership of the commission knew to be manipulated and incompetent for non compliance with the strict provisions of the NJC RULES is fraudulent and renders the entire process flawed and ought to be discontinued . See Rule 4(4ii a&e) of NJC RULES cited above. In fact ,Some of the candidates had to borrow these monies to meet up the 24hour ultimatum given to them by the Commission.
We wish to put on record, that it is only in Abia State that the process of Judgeship selection is shrouded in such secrecy by its Commission to avoid transparency checks by the relevant stakeholders so as to enable unqualified persons emerge as Judges /Judicial Officers which continues to lower the standard of the Judiciary in the public domain and erode the confidence and independence of the judiciary. A corrupt judge is capable of the unthinkable and that is why the issues we have raised above should be thoroughly investigated.
Based on the foregoing, it is clear that the Abia State Judicial Service Commission is highly compromised. In our assessment ,It has failed and lacks the moral capacity to achieve a transparent and credible selection process in the ongoing Judgeship appointment exercise. To allow this heavily flawed process to crystallize is to further deepen and embolden corrupt individuals who are having a field day in destroying the Nigerian Judiciary which is the last hope of the common man. The excruciating pain of betrayal and deceit associated with an unjust decision handed down by a corrupt and incompetent judge is only left in the realms of imagination and that will be the experience of Abia citizens and Nigerians at large if this process is not cancelled immediately. The Abia State Judicial Service Commission despite the embarrassment it brought upon itself, Abia citizens and the entire Nigeria arising from the cancellation of the earlier exercise due to its involvement in the shameful bribery scandal of 2021, has remained defiant and unruffled in its desperation to install corrupt persons as Judges in Abia State. This must not be allowed.
It is therefore upon the above premise, that we petition to the Council to take steps to immediately and cancel the ongoing process for non compliance with the strict provisions of the NJC RULES and call for immediate INVESTIGATION of this petition by an unbiased and dispassionate panel to consider the allegations of corruption and manipulations surrounding the entire process. That all the candidates in the purported incompetent provisional list sent to the council should submit themselves for investigation and that persons found liable for any alleged corrupt practices be fully prosecuted and removed from office and to insist that an independent body and /or the relevant stakeholders MUST supervise any list of shortlisted candidates for the Abia State Judgeship appointment before same is sent to the council. Finally, in the event our petition is not treated with attention it deserves, we shall not hesitate to take appropriate steps under law to prevent this anomaly.
Chinyere Johnson Umelo – (President)
Prince Emeka Amadi – (Secretary)
Abubakar Malami (SAN)
The Hon. Attorney General
of the Federation and Minister for Justice,
Federal Ministry of Justice,
Shehu Shagari Way,