The nomination of 22 justices for Supreme Court appointment has ignited a fierce debate within the judiciary, with senior serving and retired justices expressing discontent over the list released by the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) last Thursday.
Sources reveal that a significant number of justices are at odds with the politicization of the appointment process, citing instances where priority slots seemed to be allocated based on questionable criteria. Notably, concerns were raised over the North-Central zone’s allocation, where the son of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria was given priority over a senior jurist with over 15 years of experience in the Court of Appeal.
In the South-South region, the candidate adjudged as the best was curiously listed as a reserve, sparking questions about the transparency of the selection process. The controversy deepened as it was disclosed that the reserve candidate for South-South had the highest ratio, according to the Law Pavilion’s electronic law report.
Some justices from the North-West expressed surprise at the exclusion of Justice AB Gumel, who was reportedly the number one on the list of jurists from the region. Similarly, in the South-West, questions were raised about the inclusion of a justice who had never made the short-list over a reserve candidate from 2019.
Concerns among senior members of the Nigerian Judiciary include fears that the perceived irregularities in the nomination process could further diminish morale and lead to increased discord within the judiciary.
However, legal scholar Prof Yemi Akinseye George, SAN, applauded the FJSC’s list, expressing pride in the caliber of nominated justices. Despite acknowledging the possibility of human error, he scored the list 99.9% and emphasized the excellence of the named justices.
In response to the controversy, law professor Sam Erugo, SAN, highlighted the judiciary’s conservative nature and suggested that the bar’s campaign for inclusion lacked the necessary rigor. He argued that the bench’s organization favored the elevation of hard-working Court of Appeal Justices to the Supreme Court.
Sources from the Office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the National Judicial Council assured that the appointment process is thorough, considering factors such as years of service and individual integrity. They clarified that the list released by the FJSC is not final, and the NJC has the authority to conduct rigorous interviews, potentially altering the final list.
The controversy arises as the list of nominees reveals six candidates from the North-Central, two each from the South-West and South-South, six from the South-East, and two from the North-East. This development follows the recent retirements of Justices Amina Augie and Mohammed Datijo, leaving the Supreme Court with only 10 serving justices.