Indications have emerged that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad is desperately shopping for willing judges to handle the appeal of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar in the Supreme Court.
Three of the Appeal Court Justices: Justices Muhammed L. Garba, Abdu Aboki and Samuel Oseji, who sat at the Presidential Election petition tribunal that upheld Buhari’s election under controversial circumstances have been tipped among the Justices that are about to be hurriedly elevated to the Supreme Court.
Documents obtained from the National Judicial Council of Nigeria dated September 18 2019 showed the names of the three judges already penciled down for interview into the Supreme Court.
Others include Justices M. B. Dongbam -Mensem, Mohammed Garba (Chairman of the Court of Appeal Presidential Election Petition Tribunal), Emmanuel A. Agim, Biobele A. Georgewill and Helen M. Ogunwumiju.
It was gathered that the NJC has fast tracked the date of interview from earlier scheduled date of October 18 to September 18.
Presently, the seven most senior judges in the Supreme Court are: Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad; Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour; Justice Mary Odili and Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta. Others are Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, Justice Musa Datijo Muhammad and Justice Kumai Bayang Akaahs.
Meanwhile a Civil Society Organisation, Nigeria Centre for Justice and Rule of Law (NCJRL) has alleged plots to deviate from the tradition of using senior judges to handle Atiku’s appeal.
NCJRL stated this in a statement signed by Dr James Adeoye and Barrister Yusuf Abdullahi, chairman and secretary, respectively.
They declared that their investigation revealed that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad is plotting to deviate from the tradition where the panel that hears presidential election petitions in the Supreme Court is made up of seven most senior judges in the apex court.
The group further called on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and other civil society organisations to brace up to the challenge and ensure that the time-tested tradition where most senior judges in the Supreme Court are members of presidential election panel is not circumvented by the CJN.
They also expressed reservation as to why the chairman of the Court of Appeal Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, Justice Mohammed Garba should be elevated so sudden to the apex court “if not to show gratitude for a job well done.”
The statement read: “Our findings revealed that so far the CJN has tentatively pencilled down himself, Justice Rhodes-Vivor, Justice Baba Aji, Justice Inyang Okoro, Justice Cletus Nwaeze, Justice Musa Datijo and Justice Augie to hear Atiku’s petition that is expected to be filed next week.
“We also reliably gathered that the CJN may replace some of these judges with some of the new judges President Muhammadu Buhari requested to be recruited in June, and that is the reason the NJC is in a hurry to interview the in-coming new judges.”
While calling for strict adherence to laid down precedence, NCJRC said “the panel should be based on seniority as has been the tradition and any deviation from this will give credence to speculations in the public space that the CJN was brought into office to do a hatchet job.
“Even if the CJN for any reason, which is subject to different interpretations, decides to deviate from the norm, the panel should represent the interest of the various geo-political zones in the country.
“But this option of picking the panel to satisfy geo-political interest may be a bad precedent and certainly not good for posterity as the judiciary will be perceived as being politicised.”
The Nigeria Centre for Justice and Rule of Law further stressed that the most worrisome of their findings is the plot to make new judges of the Supreme Court members of the Presidential Election Panel.
“Is it right for green-horn judges that are just coming to the Supreme Court to be members of the panel when we have senior and more experienced judges in the Supreme Court?
“We are aware they want to rush the interview of these new judges and send the list to President Muhammadu Buhari for onward transmission to the Senate for confirmation. Our present senate will expectedly rubber stamp the list and confirm them.
“What is the motive behind the rush to bring in these new judges into the Supreme Court in the middle of crucial election petition?”
The group called on the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and other civil society organisations to rise up and demand that the time-tested tradition where the most senior judges in the Supreme Court are members of presidential election panel is not tampered with by the CJN.