Court to Buhari: You can’t abdicate your duties to Senate – New Telegraph

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…faults President on appointment of 11 FCT Judges

The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja yesterday faulted President Muhammadu Buhari on the appointment of 11 Judges of the Federal Capital Territory High Court. The court in clear terms told President Buhari that his responsibility in the appointment of 11 judges recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) cannot be abdicated to the Senate.

The court held that the President acted in contravention of the law when he sent the names of 11 candidates recommended to him by the NJC for appointment as judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to the Senate for screening and confirmation.

The trial judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo, made the pronouncement in a suit filed by an Abuja-based lawyer, Oladimeji Ekengba, contending that the forwarding of the names of the 11 nominees by Buhari to the Senate was in breach of section 256(2) of the Nigerian Constitution. Joined as defendants in the suit are Buhari, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, the Clerk of the Senate, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad and the NJC, as the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 7th defendants, respectively.

The suit had the Senate and the Senate President joined as the 3rd and 4th defendants respectively. President Buhari had, on July 7, forwarded the names of 11 persons recommended for appointment as Judges of the FCT High Court to the Senate for confirmation.

Buhari picked 11 names from among the 33 recommended to him in April by the NJC. The appointees are: Abubakar Useni Musa, Edward Okpe, B. Abubakar, M. Francis, Jude Nwabueze, Josephine Enobi, Christopher Opeyemi, Mohammed Idris, Hassan Maryam Aliyu, Fashola Akeem Adebowale and Hamza Muazu. He forwarded the 11 names to the Senate for screening, but the upper legislative chamber had declined to act on the President’s list having admitted that it had no role to play in the appointment of FCT judges. The 11 judges have since been sworn in by the CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad.

Aside from faulting the sending of the names of 11 of the candidates to the Senate, Ekengba, in his suit, also contended that the President lacked the power to pick and choose whom among the candidates to appoint as judges recommended by the NJC. He sought among other prayers, an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Senate from screening and confirming the candidates as judges of the FCT High Court. Justice Ekwo agreed with the plaintiff that Buhari acted in contravention of the provision of Section 256(2) of the Constitution by forwarding the 11 names to the Senate.

He, however, ruled that the contravention of the law by Buhari did not affect the judges’ inauguration. In the judgement, Ekwo held that President Buhari acted in contravention of the provision of Section 256(2) of the Constitution. The judge said the only instance where the president could forward NJC’s recommendation to the Senate, in respect of a High Court judge’s appointment, was when it related to the appointment of a head of court, like the chief judge. He, however, held that the fact that President Buhari contravened the provision of Section 256(2) of the Constitution did not affect swearing-in of the judges.

“The issue is straightforward. It is whether the first defendant (the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) acted in compliance with the provision of Section 256(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to have sent the names of the 11 persons recommended for appointment as judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja to the Senate for confirmation. “Looking at the provision of Section 256(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), I find that there is no power or authority, express or implied, given to the first defendant (the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) to send names of persons recommended to him for appointment as judges to the Senate for screening. “All that the first defendant needed to do was to send the names of the appointees to the seventh defendant (the NJC).

“The requirement for confirmation by the Senate would only have been necessary and constitutional if the seventh defendant recommended a person to the first defendant for appointment as the chief judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as provided for in Section 256(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

“To state it clearly, the act of the first defendant, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria), sending the names of the 11 persons appointed by him to the Senate for confirmation was done in contravention of the provision of Section 256(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended),” he ruled. Justice Ekwo proceeded to grant two of the plaintiff’s reliefs, which include a declaration that, by the provision of Section 256(2) of the Constitution, the President “cannot abdicate his duties and responsibilities to the Senate for appointment of persons as judges of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.”

The judge equally declared that the names of the individuals nominated by the NJC for appointment as judges of the High Court of the FCT cannot be subjected to the screening and confirmation and that the forwarding of the names to the Senate was contrary to and in breach of Section 256(2) of the Constitution. “As can be seen, this judgement affects only the act of forwarding the names of the appointees to the Senate, which was done in contravention of the provision of Section 256(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). It does not affect the swearing- in of the appointees,” the judge held.

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