President Muhammadu Buhari has controversially approved a list of 22 judges to federal court positions, barely a year after he rejected the same individuals as unqualified for the top judicial roles, Peoples Gazette can report.
A ceremony that was left unannounced and kept as top secret until last night will be held for the inauguration of the 22 judges in Abuja today, people familiar with the matter said, adding that the National Judicial Council is responsible for misleading the president into believing that changes had been made to the list that was rejected last year. A spokesman for the president did not immediately return a request seeking comments.
The NJC, a unit of the Supreme Court in charge of appointment, promotion and administration of judicial officers, met on November 16 and finalised the list of 22 judges to be admitted into the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory. The process was concluded amidst a veil of secrecy and nepotism.
The new judges were either offspring, relatives or cronies of former or serving senior judicial officers, the list seen by The Gazette shows. Even though today is slated for the judges’ inauguration, the NJC has declined to make the names of the new judges public.
Njideka Nwosu-Iheme, daughter of Supreme Court Justice Mary Odili and an in-law to former Court of Appeal Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme, was amongst those whose ties to the powerful cabal of the country’s judiciary gave them the upper hand in the battle for the highly-courted positions. She was rejected last year by Mr Buhari following petition from judicial reform advocates.
Fatima Abubakar Aliyu, daughter of former Court of Appeal President Zainab Bulkachuwa whom The Gazette learnt has never held any position before in the judiciary, was also appointed a judge of the FCT High Court. The 35-year-old worked briefly under Vice President Yemi Osinbajo a special assistant. Even then, she was working from home, saying her husband did not want her to do strenuous hours, according to her former colleagues in the presidency.
Both judges could not be reached for comments.
Also being sworn today are Muhammad Mustapha Adamu, Madugu Mohammed Alhaji,
Kayode Agunloye, Enenche Eleojo, Nwabulu Ngozika Chineze, Sadia Mu’azu Mayana, Mimi Anne Katsina Alu-Apena, Aminu Muhammad Abdullahi and Nwecheonwu Chinyere Elewe.
Others include Ibrahim Mohammed, Kanyip Rosemary Indinya, Aliyu Yunusa Shafa, Mohammed Zubairu, Binta Dogonyaro, Adeyemi Ajayi Jadesola, Adelaja Oluyemisi Ikeolupo, Agashieze Cyprian Odinaka, Aliyu Halilu Ahmed, Hafsat Lawan Abba-Aliyu and Olufola Olufolashade Oshin.
Messrs Zubairu and Yunusa circulated flyers of their inauguration across WhatsApp groups on Monday night.
The appointments come a year after Mr Buhari dropped the judges on the account of nepotism perception.
The NJC had on April 26, 2020, listed the 22 people as part of 33 new judges recommended for the FCT High Court. When the president dropped the list, the NJC failed to find new candidates, our sources said, but instead compiled the same list and sent back to the president this year for approval.
At least 17 of the new judges are either children or relatives of former or serving senior judges, according to findings released last year by the Open Bar Initiative, a judicial reform think-tank based in Abuja.
In September 2020, a federal judge warned the president against seeking parliamentary approval for appointments into the FCT High Court.
A source familiar with the NJC meeting of November 16 said Justice Odili lobbied members of the council to clear all the previously rejected judges without providing any updates as to why they now merit appointment after being rejected last September by Mr Buhari.
“Odili went around telling everybody to do the needful and clear everybody,” a judiciary source said. “Everybody nodded true.”
Mrs Odili is the second most-senior justice of the Supreme Court and often takes decision in lieu of Chief Justice Tanko Muhammad.
At the meeting, The Gazette learnt that NBA chief Olumide Akpata complained that the lawyers’ body was not carried along in the process and warned that there may be consequences, our sources said.
“Olumide reminded them that they will create controversy, but they overruled him and passed the list swiftly,” an official said.
The move could violate NJC’s rules for such appointments, The Gazette learnt. Rule three of the regulations said the NBA must be carried along in appointing judges, and the process must also be published ahead. NJC, however, failed to satisfy these requirements, amongst others.
A spokesman for the NJC Soji Oye said the appointments were made in line with NJC rules and full awareness of the president.
Mr Oye said the 22 individuals were amongst the 33 vetted for the positions last year, but out of which only 11 were confirmed.
“The other ones because of the security reports against them. They sent them to Judicial Service Committee and they asked them questions and when they were able to satisfy they sent to the SSS and when they were satisfied with it they sent to the presidency and the presidency approved,” Mr Oye said.
Mr Oye confirmed that only the 22 rejected judges were now confirmed, dismissing NBA’s concerns and emphasising that there were no unlawful appointment.
“It is the same list, that’s why we didn’t publish anything again. There’s no secret or unlawful appointment,” he said.
With Mrs Nwosu-Iheme’s appointment, Justice Odili now has two children as high court judges. Mr Oye also downplayed nepotism charges over the appointments.
He said: “We only approved list that was sent to us. But is there anything wrong with it if they are children of judges? They are human beings. Should they just serve for donkey years without progressing?”