CHUKWU DAVID reports on the clarification by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Opeyemi Bamidele, on the exclusion of the South-East from the recent nomination of additional justices of the Supreme Court
Recently, the National Judicial Council (NJC) selected eight jurists and forwarded their names to President Muhammadu Buhari for appointment as justices of the Supreme Court. President Buhari forwarded same to the Senate for screening and approval.
However, the action immediately provoked agitations from various interest groups across the country over perceived imbalance in the distribution of the jurists among the six geopolitical zones of the country.
This was because out of the eight nominees for the apex court’s jobs, three of them are from the North- West; two from North-East, one from South-West, two from South- South and none for the South-East. When the list was submitted to the Senate, members of the Red Chamber from the South-East drew the attention of their colleagues to the fact that their region was totally excluded from the appointments.
This observation, notwithstanding, the communication was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, for screening and subsequent approval by the chamber. Knowing the negative impression the reservations of those having a sense of marginalization in the appointments might have on the polity, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Opeyemi Bamidele, decided to make clarifi-cations on the matter.
Bamidele, who threw light on the issue at the National Assembly complex, Abuja, during the screening session for the nominees, said that the nomination and distribution of the eight jurists by President Buhari, were in compliance with the provisions of the law. He pointed out that no law was breached in the process, stating that the constitution and the Federal Character Principle were totally observed in the process.
The lawmaker explained that some of the political zones, which appeared to have suffered marginalization in the appointments, have certain number of justices already representing them in the Supreme Court. He further claimed that there was no arbitrariness in the way and manner things were conducted at the Judiciary in the country, stressing that he was making the clarification to assert the integrity of the Judiciary as a beacon of democracy.
His words: “For the information of the public, it’s important that I also emphasize that many of you as members of the public; members of the bar, members of the civil society, have shown interest in this screening exercise, and that must be respected.
“I also know that part of the concerns raised when the names were rolled out was that there were some members of the public, some members of the civil society and even some members of other political parties, who had geopolitical interest.
“Some specifically wrote to us, to wonder why out of the eight names sent by Mr. President on the recommendation of National Judicial Council (NJC), three of them were from the north western part of the country; two from north eastern part, one from south western part and two from the South-South. “And based on this comes a very big concern; some said that there was nobody from the South-East, and some said why should five people come the North and only three from the South.
“Definitely, if there is any place in this country, where you can say that there is no arbitrariness in the manner of appointment, it is in the judiciary. By the end of screening exercise, and by the time it would have been approved by the rest of our colleagues on the floor of the Senate, if we so recommend, we will be having 20 justices of the Supreme Court. “As we speak, there are 12 justices of the Supreme Court. And what is being done today is more of filling vacancies that are existing. And it is consistent with our Federal Character Principle as well as the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
“For the avoidance of doubt, out of the 12 sitting justices of the Supreme Court as at today, two of them are from the North Central geopolitical zone; two of them including the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, are from the North-East; one of them is from the North-West,three are from the South-East. We have one justice from the South- South and three from the South- West.
“And the constitution is very clear on this; if the people there are not retired, you cannot replace them because it is a tenure appointment. So, if you are saying that the North-West has three from the eight nominated justices, please remember that the zone has only one serving justice in the Supreme Court and this confirmation will bring the number to four. “If you are wondering why the South-West has one, please remember that the zone has three justices sitting in the Supreme Court, and this confirmation will bring the number to four. And of course, like I said, the North-East, which is having two nominees today, is only having two sitting, and upon this confirmation, that will bring the number to four.
“The South-East today, presently has three sitting justices, and if they don’t retire, you cannot replace them. Our laws are very clear on that. The South-South is having two nominees today, and currently has one serving justice.
“I just wanted to quickly clarify this because it is important for the integrity of what we are doing and the integrity of our judiciary as the arbiter and the bedrock of our democracy.” With Bamidele’s clarification, the committee went ahead and screened the nominees and it is expected that the final confirmation of the justices by the Senate woukld be done this week.