By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
Justice Inyang Eden Ekwo of the Federal high court in Abuja on Friday has struck out a suit seeking to stop the appointment of 18 new Justices for the Court of Appeal.
Justice IEkwo threw out the case on the ground that it lacked merit in law and in substance.
Delivering judgment in the public interest suit the Judge held that the body that instituted the case has no power under the law to file a public interest case.
Justice Ekwo said that the plaintiff having been registered as a non governmental body to raise funds for charity only in law cannot go outside its mandate to dabble into issues of public interest litigation.
Plaintiff in the matter, Igbo socio-cultural group, the Incorporated Trustees of Alaigbo Development Foundation, instituted the court case against five defendants. praying to stop the appointment of the appellate court Justices on the ground that the South East region had been marginalised in the selection.
The group, through its lawyer, Mr Max Ozoaka, argued that the selection of the 18 Justices done by the National Judicial Council (NJC) violated the provisions of the 1999 Constitution through lopsidedness in the nomination.
Specifically, the group alleged that the principle of Federal Character was breached in the way and manner the Appeal Court justices were nominated and subsequently prayed the judge to stop the appointment.
However, the NJC (1st respondent), represented by Mr Paul Usoro, SAN, while arguing his preliminary objection in the matter prayed Justice Ekwo to decline jurisdiction in the matter on the grounds that the plaintiff lacked locus standi to institute the case.
Usoro told the court that the plaintiff was an Igbo socio-cultural organisation and that its aims and objectives did not include instituting cases of public interest.
The senior lawyer further objected to the case on the grounds that photocopy of certificates of incorporation of the group certified by a court registrar was tendered, adding that only officials of the Corporate Affairs Commission are empowered to certify such documents and urge the court to dismiss the case.
In his own argument, counsel to the 2nd and 3rd respondents (Federal Judicial Service Commission and President, Court of Appeal), Mr Yakubu Maikyau SAN, also urged the court to refuse to entertain the matter on the grounds that Section 20 of the Comapanies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) did not permit the group to embark on instituting such an action.
Justice Ekwo in his judgment upheld objections that the group has no legal status to institute the suit and struck it out for lack of locus standi.
The Igbo socio-cultural group, had in its suit asked the Federal High Court, Abuja, to stop the appointment of justices of the Court of Appeal over an alleged lopsidedness of the exercise.
The group; urged Justice Ekwo to restrain the defendants from continuing the exercise pending the hearing and determination of the suit.
In an originating summons marked FHC/ABJ/CS/347/21 dated March 15 and filed March 16 by their lawyer, Mr Max Ozoaka, sued the National Judicial Council (NJC), Federal Judicial Service Commission, President of the Court of Appeal, Federal Character Commission (FCC) and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) as 1st to 5th defendants respectively.
The group had sought a court order compelling the defendants to replace the three vacancies in the South East slots by three new justices from the zone.
In the application, the group had asked the court to determine that “having regard to the oath of office of the defendants to uphold the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, and the true intendment of Section 14 (3) and other the relevant provisions of the Constitution, whether the defendants can completely ignore, disregard or infringe at will the principles of justice, fairness, equity, due process and federal character in the ongoing exercise of appointment of Justices of the court of Appeal, particularly with regard to the South East Zone of the Federation.
“Having regard to the principles of equity and good conscience and the true intendment and purpose of the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, is the South East Zone of the Federation not entitled in the ongoing exercise of appointment of justices of the Court of Appeal to 3 (three) new slots in the bench of the Court in direct replacement of the vacancies occasioned and existing in the bench of the court arising from the elevation, retirement and death of three justices of the court from that zone.”
The plaintiff, who averred that if the answers to the above questions are in its favour, urged the court to declare the action of the defendants, particularly the 1st, 2nd and 3rd, in allocating one slot only to the South East Zone in the ongoing exercise as “unjustifiable, unfair, inequitable and contrary to the true intendment of the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
“A declaration that the South East Zone is entitled to three new slots in the ongoing exercise of appointment of the justices of the Court of Appeal in direct replacement or filling of the vacancies in the bench of the Court of Appeal currently existing in the South East Zone which arose from the elevation, retirement and death of three justices of the Court from the Zone.
“An order of the Honourable Court restraining the defendants, especially the 1st 2nd and 3rd defendants from continuing the ongoing exercise of appointment of justices of the Court of Appeal unless and until the South East Zone is accorded its rightful entitlement in the exercise,” among others.
Court Strikes Out Suit Seeking To Stop Appeal Court Judges Appointments.
By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja