Rights advocacy group under the aegis of Access to Justice (a2justice), has called for the cancellation of the on-going process to appoint 25 Judges of the Federal High Court (FHC), due to what it perceived as significant breaches of the Revised National Judicial Council Guidelines and Procedural Rules, 2014.
In a statement by the Executive Director of the Association, Joseph Otteh, the group said if the current recruitment exercise is allowed to proceed, it would seriously undermine the integrity of the reforms made in the Revised Guidelines.
According to him, they made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed and the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim N. Auta, requesting information on the criteria adopted to fill the judicial vacancies but got no valuable response.
And in view of responses to their request, Access to Justice said it observed the breaches of the said Guidelines.
Otteh therefore urged the NJC to insist that any fresh exercise must adhere with, and be in compliance with the Revised Guidelines 2014.
“The Revised Guidelines seek to ensure openness, competitiveness, merit and transparency in recruitment processes as well as safeguard judicial appointments from being lobbied and policised” he stated.
Otteh also pointed out that, the current Federal High Court recruitment has been done in ways that conflict with transparency and accessibility, merit-based selection safeguards and general observations on the process followed.
“The Rule provides that the provisional shortlist shall be made on merits”, he stated.
The idiomatic phrase ‘on the merits’ is defined to mean: ‘based on the qualities of someone or something, or on the facts of a situation.
The Revised Guidelines seek to ensure openness, competitiveness, merit and transparency in recruitment processes as well as safeguard judicial appointments from being lobbied and politicized”, he insisted, adding that there were no appropriate parameters used in shortlisting candidates who were recommended to the Federal Judicial Service Commission and the NJC.
Otteh also stated that, from the response of the Chief Judge of the FHC, it is clear that consideration for proper shortlisting processes were largely excluded.
The association also observes, that , apart from the power to officially communicate the existence of court vacancies to the Chairman of the NJC and FJSC pursuant to rule 2(2)(a) of the Revised Guidelines, the Chief Judge of the FHC does not have, within the general context of the Revised Guidelines, the powers which he has irregularly exercised in the course of this recruitment exercise.
Access to Justice therefore urged the NJC to adjudge the process to fill judicial vacancies of the FHC as fundamentally flawed on the grounds of substantial non-compliance with or breach of the Revised National Judicial Council Guidelines and Procedural Rules, 2014.
“We urge the NJC to reject the list forwarded by the Federal Judicial Service Commission. By so doing, the NJC will be sending a strong signal to all Judicial Service Commissions and heads of Courts that it will not return to the ‘business as usual’ status quo in relation to judicial appointments and that it will respect its own mandatory policies and rules governing the appointment of Judges in Nigeria”, Otteh said.
The Group also stated the need for NJC to ensure strict compliance with the Revised Guidelines.
“We also urge the NJC to insist that any fresh exercise must adhere with, and be in compliance with the Revised Guidelines 2014,” he concluded.