Court Strikes Out Suit Challenging Appointment of Supreme Court Judges

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The NJC made the recommendation in October 2019.

Those approved were Adamu Jauro (North-east); Emmanuel A. Agim (South-south); C. Oseji (South-south); Helen M. Ogunwumiju (South-west).

The recommendations were sent to President Muhammadu Buhari who has the powers to appoint the judges with the backing of the Senate.

But in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1460/2019, the Incorporated Trustees of Access to Justice, who is the applicant had asked the court to nullify the appointment of the four justices.

It asked this on the ground that their appointment did not comply with the extant Revised NJC guidelines and procedural rules for the appointment of judicial officers of all superior court of records in Nigeria adopted by the NJC and which came into force on November 3, 2014.

The Federal Judicial Service Commission; the NJC; the Chief Justice of Nigeria; the Senate and Mr Buhari, were respondents in the suit respectively.

Delivering judgement in the suit on Friday, Justice Ekwo held that the group lacked the locus standi (legal authority) to institute the suit challenging the appointment of the four justices.

The judge upheld the objections of the respondents to the effect that the applicant lacked the locus standi to initiate the action.

He said that the applicant acted outside its objectives set out in its constitution which did not include engaging in public interest litigation.

The court also held that Section 590(1) of the Companies and Allied Act (CAMA) did not give the applicant the authority to engage itself in what it called “pleased interest litigation to the extent that it has the authority to initiate this type of suit.”

“I must state that Nigeria does not yet have a statutory framework for the registration or operation of Non- Governmental Organisation (NGOs).

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“In other words, there is no legislation that deals with the registration or operation of NGO in Nigeria and I hope that the National Assembly and even the applicant will take a cue from other Commonwealth countries like Uganda (the Non-Governmental Act, 2016) and Zambia (Non-Governmental Act).

“These countries, apart from having enactments that, are similar to Part C of the CAMA, do have enactments that govern the operations of NGOs.

“In this climes, with the NGO Act, these organisations are active in humanitarian, educational, healthcare, public policy etc,” he ruled.

Justice Ekwo added that the bodies or associations that are registered under Section 590(1) of the CAMA, are by all intent and purposes, “non-contentious; non-confrontational; non-combative and non-litigations association for their objects are limited to religious, educational etc.”

According to the judge, “anybody or association of persons who obtains registration under Part C of the CAMA and engages in any activity other than the ones mentioned in Section 590(1) of the CAMA is illegality.

“There is no provisions under Part C of the CAMA that makes provisions for the registration of anybody or groups of persons whose true intent is to supervise, superintend or monitor arms or agencies of government or interfere in their business.

“I am sure that if the applicant had indicated to the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) that the real object in its mind is to engage in public interest litigation of the nature of this suit, the CAC would have refused to register it under Part C of the CAMA.

“If the applicant is now telling this court that it has locus standi to engage in public interest litigation by virtue of its registration under section 590(1) of the CAMA, then the registration was camouflage and fraud and ought to be revoked.

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“I find that the applicant has not established any credible evidence tendered upon the originating summons that it is a corporate body registered by CAC.

“I also find that the applicant has not established by any credible evidence that it has a constitution registered under Part C of the CAMA.

“Therefore, the applicant has acted ultra vires the provision of the said Section 590(1) of the CAMA by bringing this action.

“I, therefore, resolve the issue of locus standi against the applicant and in favour of the respondents,” the judge ruled.

Meanwhile, four months after the NJC recommended the appointment of the four new apex court judges, Mr Buhari is yet to forward their names to the Senate for confirmation.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Mohammad, had on different occasions raised concerns over the heavy workload on justices of the apex court.

Currently, there are 12 Justice of the Supreme Court, whereas section 230 (2) (b) of the 1999 constitution provides that; “The Supreme Court of Nigeria shall consist of such number of Justices not exceeding 21 as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.”

Successive governments have also overlooked the need to have the maximum 21 justices as stipulated by the constitution.

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