John Aikpokpo-Martins, Kunle Edun Drag Buhari, Senate, And NJC To Court Over Exclusion Of Lawyers From Judicial Appointments

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Two Lawyers, John Aikpokpo-Martins Esq and Olakunle Edun Esq have dragged President Muhammadu Buhari, the President of the Nigerian Senate, Sen. Ahmed Lawan and the National Judicial Council before an Abuja Federal High Court over the systemic exclusion and non-consideration of private legal practitioners and academics in the appointment of judicial officers into the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.

In the Originating Summons made available to TheNigeriaLawyer, the Plaintiffs, who are Former NBA Leaders are asking the Court to for a proper interpretation of Sections 231(1), 231(3), 238(1), and 238(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

In the Summons, the Plaintiffs have raised six issues for determination by the Trial Court, to wit:

  1. Whether upon a proper interpretation of the provisions of section 231((1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, legal practitioners in both private practice and public service are not entitled to be considered for recommendation by the 3rd Defendant to the 1st Defendant, for appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
  2. Whether upon a proper interpretation of the provisions of section 231((3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, legal practitioners in both private practice and public service are not entitled to be considered for recommendation by the 3rd Defendant to the 1st Defendant for appointment as Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
  3. Whether upon a proper interpretation of the provisions of section 238((3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, legal practitioner in both private practice and public service are not entitled to be considered for recommendation by the 3rd Defendant to the 1st Defendant, for appointment as Justices of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria.
  4. Whether upon a proper interpretation of the provisions of section 238((1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, legal practitioners in both private practice and public service are not entitled to be considered for recommendation by the 3rd Defendant to the 1st Defendant for appointment as President, Court of Appeal of Nigeria.
  5. Whether, upon a combined interpretation of the provisions of section 231(1) and 238(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, a private legal practitioner who is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period not less than 15 years, is not qualified to be considered for recommendation and/or appointment as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
  6. Whether, upon a proper interpretation of the provisions of sections 231(1), (3) and 238(1) & (3) private legal practitioners who have indicated their interest to the 3rd Defendant to be considered for appointment as Justices of the Court of Appeal and Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, are not entitled to know the outcome of their applications.

If the questions are determined in their favour, they are praying the Court to make the following declarations:

A DECLARATION that by virtue of the provisions of section 231((1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, legal practitioners in both private practice and public service who have practised law in Nigeria for a period of not less than 15 years are entitled to be considered for recommendation by the 3rd Defendant to the 1st Defendant, for appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

A DECLARTION that by virtue of the provisions of section 231(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, legal practitioners in both private practice and public service who have practised law in Nigeria for a period of not less than 15 years are entitled to be considered for recommendation by the 3rd Defendant to the 1st Defendant for appointment as Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

A DECLARTION that by virtue of the provisions of section 238((3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, legal practitioners in both private practice and public service who have practised law in Nigeria for a period of not less than 12 years are entitled to be considered for recommendation by the 3rd Defendant to the 1st Defendant, for appointment as Justices of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria.

A DECLARATION that by virtue of the provisions of section 238((1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, legal practitioners in both private practice and public service who have practised law in Nigeria for a period of not less than 12 years are entitled to be considered for recommendation by the 3rd Defendant to the 1st Defendant, for appointment as President, Court of Appeal of Nigeria.

A DECLARATION that by virtue the combined interpretation of the provisions of section 231(1) and 238(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, a private legal practitioner who is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period not less than 15 years, is qualified to be considered for recommendation and/or appointment as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

A DECLARATION that by virtue of the provisions of sections 231(1), (3) and 238(1) & (3) private legal practitioners who have indicated their interest to the 3rd Defendant to be considered for appointment as Justices of the Court of Appeal and Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, are entitled to know the outcome of their applications.

In a 24-paragraph affidavit deposed by Mr John Aikpokpo-Martins, he stated that legal practitioners who have practised law in Nigeria for a period of not less than 12 and 15 years are entitled to apply and be considered for appointment as Justices of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court respectively, and however, that has not been the case in reality.

According to the Affidavit, several eminent Nigerian lawyers have continued to have their applications for appointment to the Bench of Superior Courts turned down.

Adding that “for a very long time now (running into decades) no legal practitioner either in private practice or working as in-house counsel in any public agency has been recommended for appointment as either Justice of the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court or heads of any of these appellate courts.”

He added, “That the erroneous impression may be created that except one is a Judge, no practising legal practitioner is fit and qualified to be on the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court bench.

That it is not unusual to appoint Justices of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court from the private and official bar. Find attached and marked as Exhibit “A” a list of Justices of the United States’ Supreme Court that had no prior judicial experience.

That I know as a fact that the Plaintiffs are required by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended to abide by and to seek compliance with the provisions of the said Constitution and judgments of courts, and accordingly challenge any violation of the provisions of the Constitution.

That I know as a fact that the actions of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Defendants complained of, to the extent that legal practitioners are not recommended/appointed/confirmed as Justices of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, are not in compliance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Recall that last week, a Former General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mazi Afam Osigwe SAN in a television interview reported by TheNigeriaLawyer urged for a court action to be initiated to challenge what he called the discrimination against private legal practitioners in judicial appointments.

The case is yet to get a hearing date as at the time of filing this report.

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