Politicisation of Appointment and Deliberate Exclusion of Honorable Justice Beatrice Iliya from list of Nominees for the Office of Chief Judge of Gombe State
Our Opinion – Tangale Community Development Association
It has come to our attention that His Excellency Alh. Mohammed Inuwa Yahaya, the Executive Governor of Gombe State has, in exercise of his powers, nominated and forwarded the names of Justices Muazu Pindiga and Joseph Awak to the National Judicial Council, NJC, for interview and subsequent appointment/confirmation of either of the two as substantive Chief Judge of Gombe State.
While we recognize the constitutional role of governors in the process of appointing Chief Judges of their respective states, and while in similar vein we also appreciate the efforts and commitment of His Excellency Alh. Mohammed Inuwa Yahaya towards moving the process of appointing a substantive Chief Judge for Gombe state forward, we are however dismayed that the name of Justice Beatrice Iliya was deliberately omitted from the list. As a body that represents the cultural and political interest of the people and equal stakeholders in the affairs of Gombe state in particular and Nigeria at large, we are not only perplexed but also deeply worried by the decision of His Excellency to exclude the name of Justice Beatrice Iliya from the list.
At this juncture it is important to state categorically that the obviously deliberate and ill-advised omission of Justice Beatrice Iliya’s name from the list of nominees sent by His Excellency to the National Judicial Council for scheduled interview for the position of Chief Judge of Gombe State is not only a reflection of the orchestrated bias and ill-treatment she has been subjected to since her appointment and clandestine removal as Acting Chief Judge of the state but also represent a disturbing contravention and politicisation of, and open affront to the extant provisions that recognize “hierarchy” (within the judicial arm) as well as “legal qualifications” as basic requirements for appointment to the office of Chief Judge, all of which Justice Beatrice Iliya had not only met but also earned by virtue of her hard work and long years of meritorious service and dedication to the cause of Justice in the state and county at large.
Going forward, it is appropriate to factor the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which are inequivocal in their stipulation of the qualifying criteria and subsisting conditionalities for the appointment of Chief Judge of a state. For purpose of clarity we shall take the pains to quote these constitutional provisions, using same as the basis to fault and question the propriety of His Excellency in excluding the name of Justice Beatrice Iliya from the list of nominees for the position of Chief Judge of Gombe State.
Firstly, the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides in Section 270(2) that the High Court of a State shall consist of:
(a) a Chief Judge of the State; and
(b) such number of Judges of the High Court as may be prescribed by a law of the House of Assembly of the State. Furthermore, The Constitution(as amended) states in Section 271(1) “that the appointment of a person to the office of Chief Judge of a State shall be made by the Governor of the State on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to the confirmation of the appointment by the House of Assembly of the State”.
From the above it is clear that these provisions of the Constitution intend that a person shall not be qualified to be appointed to the office of Chief Judge of a State unless he is first and foremost, a Judge of the High Court of the State. And to be a Judge of the High Court of a State, a person “shall be qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and shall have been so qualified for a period of not less than ten years.” By implication it is right to assume then that the Chief Judge of a State can only be appointed from among the Judges of the High Court of the State.
Secondly, the 1999 Construction(as amended) also stated in section 271(4) that: “If the office of Chief Judge of a State is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the Governor of the state shall appoint the MOST SENIOR(emphasis ours) Judge of the High court to perform those functions.”
Now, if the letters and spirit of the Constitution is sacrosanct then it is a valid submission that since only the most senior Judge of the High Court of a State is qualified to be appointed to the office of Chief Judge of the State in an Acting capacity, it then follows logically too that a person who is the most senior Judge of the High Court of a State is the most suitable to be appointed to the office of Chief Judge of that State in a substantive capacity provided it has not been proven that the individual has questionable integrity.
Looking at the various Constitutional provisions quoted above and the logical interpretations made thereof, it can be sayed without doubt that Justice Beatrice is not only qualified to be nominated as a candidate for the position of Chief Justice of Gombe state but is also by all ramifications the most suitably qualified to be appointed the substantive Chief Judge of Gombe state. With the current development therefore, we find it not only ridiculous and absurd that Justice Beatrice Iliya who is eminently qualified in both character and learning, who is an active Judge of Gombe State High Court and the most senior Judicial Officer in Gombe state Judiciary and who was deemed qualified to be appointed to serve as Acting Chief Judge did not make the list of nominees for appointment as Substantive Chief Judge.
Can there be anything more perplexing and vexatious?
Well for us there can only be one interpretation of the deliberate and calculated exclusion of Justice Beatrice Iliya from the list of nominees for the office of Chief Judge of Gombe State, and it simply a deep-seated political BIAS that is driven by religious and tribal bigotry as well as the primordial sentiments towards the female gender. And though we cannot arrogate to ourselves the all-knowing power of God, yet we can say with near certainty that the actions, inactions and body language of the powers that be, especially that of His Excellency, are heavily tilted to favor the emergence of Justice Muazu Pindiga as the substantive Chief Judge of Gombe State. As far as we are concerned and without any intent of disparaging the name and reputation of the Honorable Justice Joseph Awak, we however see his inclusion as nothing but a calculated maneuver to give a semblance of legitimacy to an already compromised process, and at worst it is meant to serve as a damage control mechanism in case the intended plan fails.
Having made the above submissions we must also say that we are not lost to the fact that the allegation of misconduct that form the basis of a petition purported to have been written against the person of Justice Beatrice Iliya by a disgruntled individuals masquerading as patriotic citizen was but a part of an orchestrated grand plot to fabricate reasons by which the Hon. Justice would be schemed out of the equation. As far as we are concerned the content of that petition is but a mishmash of unsubstantiated allegations that border on malice and hatred. And to the best of our knowledge, it was never reported that Justice Beatrice Iliya was neither been given an opportunity to defend herself against such allegations nor was there any legally constituted panel of Inquiry or investigations conducted that found her culpable of those allegations or any misdemeanor that would warrant her exclusion from being nominated for and/or appointed to the Office of Chief Judge of Gombe state.
Having made our submissions on the matter of the politicization of the appointment of the Chief Judge of Gombe State and the attendant but deliberate exclusion of and evident bias against the person of Justice Beatrice Iliya, we wish to humbly call on His Excellency, Alh. Mohammed Inuwa Yahaya to as matter of urgency toe the line of Justice and fairness and uphold the Oath he has sworn to treat everyone fairly and equally without consideration of gender, tribe or religion.
And while we most humbly remind His Excellency that posterity will certainly judge everyone according to their deeds, we also hope and pray earnestly that he finds the uncommon courage to rise above petty sentiment and reverse his actions which are obviously tilted against Justice Beatrice Iliya.
In conclusion we wish to use this medium to also draw the attention of the Honorable Chief Justice and Chairman of the National Judicial Council to the unfortunate charade that is being perpetrated in the Judicial Arm of Government in Gombe State. We wish to call on the Honorable Chief Justice and members of the National Judicial Council to not allow their good names and respectable offices be used as medium to perpetrate injustice against a law-abiding citizen and as well subvert the time-honoured tradition of orderly succession to High Court Bench based on seniority.
As concerned citizens we wish to remind the Honorable Justice that politicisation of the appointment of Chief Judges across most of the states of the Federation portends grave danger to the survival of not just the judiciary but democracy as well. As such it is imperative that we call on the Honorable Chief Justice and members of his Council to take a strong stand against the continuing and undue interference of the Executive Arm of state governments in the appointment of judicial officers.
Similarly, we wish to call on the Leadership and members of Gombe State House of Assembly to rise to the occasion and defend a patriotic and law-abiding citizen against an evident act of Injustice. The legislature must not be seen to be a party to the desecration of the sacred principles of Separation of Powers.
Finally, we make bold to say that the responsibility of building an egalitarian society belongs to all of us and in exercise of that responsibility we must not only eschew all forms of bias, sentiments and inordinate ambition but also take a stand to defend every institution of government and salvage them from the predatory claws of power drunk and greedy individuals.
God Bless Gombe State
God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!!
Moses I. Lautangle,
Public Relations Officer,
Tangale Community Development Association (TCDA)
Rivers State Branch,
Port Harcourt, Nigeria.