In a surprising twist, senior serving judges and retired justices have raised objections to the recent nomination of 22 justices for appointment to the Supreme Court. The Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) released the list last Thursday, sparking controversy within the Nigerian legal community.
According to reports, the nomination process has been criticized for alleged political interference, with concerns that the appointments are becoming increasingly politicized. A senior justice, speaking to Vanguard, expressed apprehension that President Bola Tinubu might be heading towards a direct confrontation with a broader section of senior members of the Nigerian bench.
The controversy extends to specific nominations, such as in the North-Central zone, where the son of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria was prioritized over a senior jurist with over 15 years of experience in the Court of Appeal, who was placed as a reserve candidate. Similarly, in the South-South region, the individual adjudged as the very best was curiously listed as a reserve candidate.
Sources within the judiciary have revealed inconsistencies in the nomination process. In one instance, a justice initially excluded from the shortlist was later identified as the priority candidate, raising questions about the transparency of the selection process.
In the North-West, concerns have been raised over the exclusion of Justice AB Gumel, despite being ranked as the number one jurist from the region. Meanwhile, in the South-West, a justice who was a reserve candidate in 2019 remains on the reserve list, while another justice who had never made the shortlist was placed as a priority candidate.
The perceived irregularities have led to fears among senior members of the Nigerian Judiciary that morale and cohesion within the judicial system could deteriorate if the issues are not promptly addressed.
Renowned academic and legal expert, Prof Yemi Akinseye George (SAN), offered a contrasting view, applauding the FJSC’s list. Despite acknowledging the possibility of human error, Akinseye commended the overall quality of the nominated justices, scoring the list at 99.9%.
In response to the criticism, sources from the Office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the National Judicial Council (NJC) downplayed concerns, emphasizing that the appointment of justices into the Supreme Court is a meticulous process. They highlighted that the FJSC’s list is not final, with the NJC having the authority to subject all 22 candidates to a rigorous interview session before finalizing the selection of the best candidates for the job. The NJC is not bound to adopt the FJSC’s priority list and has the flexibility to replace names based on merit. The situation is described as a “work in progress” with an assurance that the best candidates will be forwarded to the President for approval.