By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
Following the tension that greeted his comments over how the last batch of Appeal court justices were screened and appointed, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Olumide Akpata, has said that though he was quoted “not necessarily incorrectly, but definitely out of context” by a section of the media.
Akpata did not give the exact context of the quote, which was said to have offended NJC members.
Recall that about the same time the National Judicial Council (NJC) was approving a list of justices for the appeal court, Akpata was quoted as saying at an NBA meeting: “What I saw and experienced at the NJC meeting on the appointment of judges to the Court of Appeal left me aghast!
“Important legal issues that were occasionally put to the nominees could not be answered!
“The whole proceeding appeared more of an old school boys meeting. When I as a “Johnny-Just-Come” (fresh attendee), wondered at this and was forced to ask: “Are these people really going to the Court of Appeal?” I heard things like “They will learn on the job”!
“We were to interview twenty nominees at a point but only 2 hours was allocated for this important exercise. That meant six minutes only for each nominee. We cannot continue like this!”
In Abuja on Wednesday, Akpata explained that a member of the NBA National Executive Committee misrepresented his concerns on the appointment of the Justices when he rushed to an online blog and published his own version of the statement.
The NBA President said in the process, he was quoted out of context.
Akpata, who spoke at a public forum at the Supreme Court Abuja, explained further that the NBA NEC member, who misrepresented him in the offending media publication, was entitled to attend the meeting, insisting he has no control over him.
Apparently feeling the bad blood created by the publication, especially between the NBA and the National Judicial Council (NJC), Akpata assured that the relationship between the bar and the bench would be continually nurtured and sustained.
“Let me use this opportunity to touch on certain statements attributed to me that have unfortunately found its way into the social media space and become subject of public discourse.
“On March 18, 2021, as the President of the NBA, I chaired a meeting of the National Executive Committee (NBA-N EC) of the NBA held in Uyo, the Akwa lbom State Capital.
“At that meeting, as is customary, I reported my overall activities including my participation at the last NJC interview meeting of the recently appointed justices of the Court of Appeal.
“I informed the meeting that during this exercise, I expressed concerns about the competence of some of the candidates that were interviewed and the process that led to the recommendation of twenty candidates to the NJC for appointment as Justices of the Court of Appeal.
“As I mentioned earlier, the forgoing formed part of my report to the NBA-NEC, a body to which, as President of the NBA, I am accountable.
“Unfortunately, one of the members of NBA-NEC rushed to the online blogs and published his own version of that statement and in the process quoted me, not necessarily incorrectly, but definitely out of context.
“My Lord, this action by a member of NBA-NEC who was entitled to be in attendance at the meeting is one that I have no control over.
“My lords, the relationship that exists between the Bar and the Bench is one that must be continually nurtured and sustained and my lords can be rest assured that this is what the NBA yearns and stands for.
“On behalf of the NBA, I want to reassure my lords of our commitment to providing any level of support to enrich the quality of the Bench.
“This is our constituency and we will stop at nothing to protect it” the NBA President assured”. Akpata said.
Last weekend, the NJC asked President Muhammadu Buhari to approve the elevation of 18 high court judges to the Court of Appeal bench on account of their remarkable performance at the high court level.
The Council also sought approval for appointment of 8 heads of courts in some states of the federation.
At its 94th meeting chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, the Council took swipe at some Judges for misconduct and issued them with stern warning to sit up or be thrown out of service.
The 18 Judges to be elevated to the Appeal Court are: Justices Bature Isah Gafai, Muhammad Ibrahim Sirajo, Waziri Abdul-Azeez Yusuf Alhaji Bashir, Usman Alhaji Musale, Jauro Ibrahim Wakili, Abba Bello Mohammed and Grand Kadi Mohammed Danjuma.
Others are Justices Danlami Zama Senchi, Mohammed Lawal Abubakar, Hassan Muslim Sule, Amadi Kenneth Ikechukwu, Peter Oyinkenimiemi Affen, Sybil Onyeji Nwaka Gbagi, Olasumbo Olanrewaju Goodluck, Banjoko Adebukunola Adeoti Ibironke, Olabode Abimbola Adegbehingbe and Bola Samuel Ademola.
At the meeting held between March 17 to 18 2021, the NJC said it considered the list of candidates presented by its Interview Committee and resolved to recommend to the President and the governors of Rivers, Nasarawa, Kogi, Jigawa, Ebonyi and Delta States twenty-six successful candidates for appointment as Justices of Court of Appeal and Heads of Court in Nigeria.
Those recommended for elevation as Chief Judges are Justices Salisu Garba Abdullahi (FCT); Simeon Chibuzor Amadi, (Rivers), Aisha Bashir Aliyu (Nasarawa); Sunday Omeiza Otu, (Kogi), Umar Maigari Sadiq (Jigawa);, Ngene Anagu Elvis (Ebonyi); Theresa T. Obiajulu Ogochukwu Diai (Delta); and Patience Onuwa Elumeze; as President, Customary Court of Appeal, Delta state.
A statement by NJC Director of Information Mr Soji Oye indicated that all recommended candidates are expected to be sworn-in after approval by President Buhar and their respective State governors upon confirmation by the Senate and the respective States Houses of Assembly.
Besides, the statement said that the Council at the meeting deliberated the reports on 24 petitions written against 29 Judges presented by its Preliminary Complaints Assessment Committee.
It said the NJC resolved to empanel an investigation Committee against one Judge and issued two strong warning letters against two Judges of the Federal and State High Courts.
“It also resolved to set up a Medical Board to ascertain the health status of one Judge” Oye stated.
In addition, he said, “Council decided to issue strong warning letters to Justices Mufutau Olokoba and M. A. Savage of the Lagos State High Court.
Justice Olokoba was reprimanded and also put on the watch list of the Council for his failure to deliver judgment within the Constitutional period of 90 days and Justice Savage was reprimanded for not being in charge of his Court, according to the statement.
“The remaining petitions were summarily dismissed for manifest lack of merit, being subjudice, overtaken by events or that such petitions were matters for appeal.
“The dismissed petitions were against Justices Rita Nosakhare Pemu, Ita G. Mbaba, and Theresa Ngolika Orji-Abadua of Owerri Division of the Court of Appeal; Justices O. O. Oguntoyinbo, and A. Lewis-Allagoa of the Federal High Court.
Also petitioned are Justices Anslem A. Nwaigwe, Chief Judge of Ebonyi State, M. A. Abubakar, Binta Bawa Rijau of Niger State High Court, Maurice Odey Eneji of Cross River State; and Kulu Aliyu, Chief Judge, Zamfara State.
“Other petitions dismissed were those written against Justices S. O. Falola of Osun State Judiciary; C. C. Okaa, S. N. Odili and P. C. Obiorah, all of Anambra State High Court; Chukwuemeka – Chikeka, Ijeoma O. Agugua, Acting Chief Judge of Imo State; Y. A. Adesanya of the Lagos State Judiciary and Godwin O. Ollor and S. H. Aprioku of Rivers State High Court.
“Similarly, Council dismissed petitions written against Justices Hadiza H. Ali-Jos, E. B. Omotoso, I. Ityonyiman, W. O. Animasahun, A. A. Aderibigbe and Kadi M. Y. Usman who served in two Election Petition Tribunals.
“Council also received notifications of retirement of seventeen judicial officers and notifications of death of three Judges from the federal and state judiciaries.