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Rumbles in the judiciary as Northern forces move against S’South judge

Rumbles in the judiciary as Northern forces move against S’South judge

Court room

* Plot to truncate seniority rule thickens

TENSION appears to be brewing within the ranks of the usually calm and quiet judicial arm of government, following indications that some forces are plotting to truncate the seniority rule that has prevailed in that arm of government for a long time now.

Investigations by our reporter indicate that some forces are already plotting to alter the seniority rule, which would probably see the current second in command at the Supreme Court, Justice Walter Onnoghen, take over after the retirement of incumbent Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmood Mohammed, who will be 70 on November 10.Sources told our reporter that the forces behind the plot are quoting a rule put in place by the incumbent CJN to justify the move.

The rule established by the CJN is to the effect that judges to be promoted to the Supreme Court must not necessarily originate from the Court of Appeal, contrary to the practice from time.

The rule is proposing that well grounded lawyers, legal academics as well as Chief Justices of States of the Federation can be elevated straight to the Supreme Court.

It was gathered that the forces trying to truncate the seniority rule in the Supreme Court had argued that the same rule could be adopted to mean that those to be appointed CJN should not necessarily be the most senior judge of the Supreme Court.

It was further gathered that those working to truncate the seniority rule, who are largely political forces, are planning to pay back some justices of the apex court, who were said to have refused or failed to provide assistance for the political personalities in the past.

Specifically, it was gathered that the forces have moved against a possible appointment of Justice Onnoghen as successor to Mahmood Mohammed in November based on the seniority rule.

Justice Mohammed had taken over from Justice Alomar Mukhtar, who also took over from Justice Dahiru Musdapher. All appointments were based on seniority rule.

In fact, the seniority rule which became institutionalised during the reign of the military had been in place since the beginning of the Fourth Republic.

Incidentally, judges from the northern part of the country have dominated the scene since the rule came into existence in the days of the military.

Incumbent Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Mohammed hails from Jalingo in Taraba State and was born on November 10, 1946.

The man who is next to him, Justice Onnoghen, was born on December 22, 1950 and hails from Cross Rivers State, South-South Nigeria.

It was learnt that a good number of those in the plot against the retention of the seniority rule in the Supreme Court are from the South-South where the Supreme Court judge equally hails from.

“A number of top political forces are aggrieved with not just Justice Onnoghen. They are angry with the apex court for failing to support their aspirations in certain circumstances. And that is why they are leading the push against seniority rule,” a source said

Besides the seat of Chief Justice that will be filled before the exit of the incumbent, the apex court also has a number of vacancies that are yet to be filled.

The Nigerian Constitution guarantees that there will be 21 justices in the apex Court but only 16 are currently serving.

It was gathered that besides the push for the jettisoning of the seniority rule, those lobbying for fresh appointments are also seeking to influence the court one way or the other.

A list of the Justices of the Supreme Court includes the incumbent CJN, Justice Mohammed; Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen; Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad; Justice Olufunlola Oyelola Adekeye; Justice Suleiman Galadima; Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour;Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, Justice Musa Dantijo Muhammad; Justice Kumai Bayang Akaahs; Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta;Justice Mary Odili; Justice Olukayode Ariwoola; Justice Kudirat Olatokunbo Kekere Ekun; Justice John Okoro; Justice Chima Nweze and Justice Aminu Sanusi, appointed in May 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The CJN, had while delivering his address at the 2015 triennial conference of Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association in New Zealand, held on September 13, 2015 said that the qualification for appointment as Supreme Court Judge would no longer be limited to justices of the Court of Appeal.

The CJN had said: “My lords, the need for a change in the criteria for the appointment of judicial officers in Nigeria prompted me to direct the National Judicial Council to implement the new Revised NJC Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the Appointment of Judicial Officers of all Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria 2014.

“It was clear that the old guidelines and rules had become unworkable as it saw anachronisms such as the limitation that saw only justices of the Court of Appeal, as of right, making it to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

“Under the new, more rigorous and transparent rules, any qualified legal practitioner with the requisite intellect has the opportunity of making it to any court in the land and even to the posts of heads of federal and state superior courts, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“As Chairman of the National Judicial Council, I have had to take up the responsibility of ensuring that the overall appointments procedure maintains the institutional integrity of the judicial appointment process while ensuring that only the most competent persons are elevated.”

Forces plotting to have a big say in the affairs of the court henceforth were said to have cited the above submissions to justify the need to also jettison the seniority rule in the apex court.

Source: tribuneonlineng

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