22 out of the 33 candidates presented to President Muhammadu Buhari for appointment as judges failed to comply with the existing standards and procedures for nomination and selection as laid down by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, a former Chairman National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and convener, Open Bar Initiative (OBI) stated this in a petition to the President while challenging the appointment of the 22 candidates who are yet-to-be sworn-in.
Section 255 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As amended), pegged qualification for becoming a judge in the High Court of the FCT to be a minimum of 10 years qualification as a legal practitioner.
On 26 April, 2020, the National Judicial Council (NJC) released, amongst others, 33 names recommended to the President for appointment into the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court as judges.
At present, there are 35 judges on the Bench of the FCT High Court, if these appointments are approved, the number of judges on the FCT High Court will be increased by nearly double or, specifically, by 94.28%.
The OBI, a voluntary initiative comprising hundreds of lawyers committed to the reform of the legal profession and administration of justice Nigeria, said that NJC violated its own rules with the recommendation of the 22 candidates. According to NJC rules for nomination, candidates that will qualify as judges must be -Legal Practitioners in Private Practice; Legal Practitioners in Public Service who are Legal Officers; Chief Registrar of Court or Chief Magistrates.
However most of the 22 candidates affected are senior magistrates and Deputy Chief Registrars (DCR) and so not qualified for appointment as Judges on the FCT High Court Bench. “In summary, the selection process violated the NJC’s laid down rules and procedures; violated High Court of the FCT (Number of Judges) Act, 2003 and is fraught with judicial insider dealing which risks turning the judiciary into an instrument for advancing narrow personal interest and patronage”, OBI said. All efforts to get the reaction from the NJC proved abortive as the NJC Spokesman Soji Oye was not picking his calls.