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OPINION

NJC, ’s Appointment And Issues At Stake

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It would have been laughable, if not for the danger it portends for the harmonious coexistence of Nigeria, how almost every public official who finds himself or herself in hot waters as a result of their actions or inactions will instantaneously grab unto a made-up religious or ethnic rationale or clutch unto the easy claim of “witch-hunt”.

It was therefore not surprising that the former Acting Chief Judge of Kebbi State, Honourable Justice Elizabeth Asabe Karatu chose a similar path. What is surprising is the speed with which the Honourable Judge could forget the meticulous process followed by the Kebbi State Executive, the Kebbi State Legislature as well as the National Judicial Council (NJC) in her appointment in acting capacity and in the consideration of her proposed confirmation. Perhaps the former Acting Chief Judge had forgotten the transparent manner in which the process played out or the insurmountable conundrum created by the circumstances caused by her own actions. It is public record that, following the impending retirement of Honourbale Justice Bala Ibrahim Mairiga on 30th October, 2017, Honourable Justice Karatu was appointed as the Acting Chief Judge Kebbi State on 26th October, 2017.

The appointment was made pursuant to section 27(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended. The Subsection provides that “If the office of the Chief Judge of a State is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then, until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the Governor shall appoint the most senior Judge of the High Court to perform those functions”.

The Acting appointment of Justice Karatu under Section 271(4) of the Constitution lapsed on the 30th of January, and was renewed for another three months by Governor Bagudu without prompting, with effect from 31st January, 2018; and for yet another three months. Honourable Justice Karatu was first presented to a Kebbi State House of Assembly for confirmation as Chief Judge by the Governor of Kebbi State, Senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu on 2nd June, 2018 sequel to the recommendation of the NJC. She was invited to the House of Assembly and appeared for the confirmation hearing on 1st August, 2018. Following which hearing, the House conveyed to the Governor their rejection of the appointment of Justice Karatu on the ground that there were alterations of dates observed on her Primary School Leaving Certificate, which she admitted.  It is equally public record that after the rejection of Justice Karatu by the House, Governor actually wrote back to the House requesting for consideration of appeal for his intervention by the Judge, which request was refused by the House vide a letter dated 12th October, 2018. The letter detailed the identified alterations to the Judge’s Primary School Leaving Certificate necessitating the earlier rejection.

These are: 1. Alteration of date of birth from 9th May, 1952 to May, 1954. 2. Alteration of date of issue of the Certificate from 12th January, 1966 to 12th January, 1967; and 3. Alteration of the year of completion of primary school from 1966 to 1967. In addition to the above alterations, the House also found that the Declaration of Age presented to the House by the Justice Karatu contained a different date from the conflicting dates contained on the Primary School Leaving Certificate. The date of birth on the Declaration was 5th July, 1954. Furthermore, the former acting Chief Judge, in her 17 August 2018 Letter of Appeal to the Governor, forwarded another copy of the Primary School Leaving Certificate she purportedly obtained from the Government of “Northern Nigeria” as a Certified True Copy (CTC) of the earlier presented Certificate.

The said CTC contains 6 August 2018 as the date of issue. Also, on the CTC, the date of birth of Justice Karatu was indicated as 9 May, 1954 and the previously observed alteration of the year of completion of Primary School from 1966 to 1967 had miraculously disappeared. Justice Karatu is the one who present all these documents it is her documents that three different dates of birth were ascribed to her; 9 May, 1952, 9 May, 1954 and 5 July, 1954.

Going by the first date of Birth on the Judge’s Primary School Leaving Certificate (9 May 1954), the Judge ought to have retired from the Bench of the Kebbi State Judiciary by 9 May 2017 pursuant to the provisions of Section 291(2) of the Constitution, which fixed 65 years as the compulsory retirement age for Judges other than those on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. Again Governor Bagudu reached out to the NJC with the response of the House Assembly.

The response of the NJC was that Justice Karatu should be represented for confirmation by the House of Assembly, which guidance the Government followed albeit with no different result from the House. The House vide its letter to the Governor dated 27th March, 2019 maintained its ground not to confirm Justice Karatu as the Chief Judge of Kebbi State. The Governor communicated the response of the House to the NJC, whereafter the NJC constituted a 4-man committee to visit the State and seek a resolution to the impasse. The Committee was made up of Honourbale Justice Ishaq Usman Bello, Chief Justice Pascal Obinna Nnadi, Chief Judge Imo State; Honourable Justice Idris Abdullahi Haroon, Grand Khadi Kwara State, and Hajiya Rakiya Sarki Ibrahim, Member NJC as members. The NJC Committee visited Kebbi State on 5 May, 2019, during which visit the Committee interacted with the Governor, the former Acting Chief Judge and the Speaker of the House of Assembly, from whom the Committee established that the Kebbi State House of Assembly had never confirmed the appointment of Justice Karatu as Chief Judge of Kebbi State. Following the visit the NJC Committee, Governor Bagudu again wrote the State House of Assembly on 7 May, 2019 requesting another review of the decision of the House. The response of the House dated 15th May, 2019 was to reaffirm its earlier position of rejection of Justice Karatu. Justice Karatu’s third acting appointment expired on 30th August, 2018 necessitating another revert by the Kebbi State Government to the NJC for guidance on the resolution of the stalemate.

In this instance, the NJC vide a Letter dated 11th June, 2019 approved the appointment of the next most senior Judge of the High Court to act in the capacity of Judge of Kebbi State.  It is therefore, interesting to see that the petition of the former Acting Chief Judge, as reported in the media, had conveniently omitted to mention any of the facts as uncovered by the Kebbi State House of Assembly resulting in her rejection. Rather, the learned jurist had resorted to the age-long “religious persecution”, “witch-hunt” emotional blackmail argument popularized by the malefactors.

It is also appalling that, in an attempt to garner public attention, the former acting Chief Judge had opted for the use of the name of the Vice President in the most mischievous and reckless manner. We know as a fact that no relation of the Vice President had ever had any matter, civil or criminal, before Justice Karatu or any other court in Kebbi State. Why a person who once occupied the most exalted position of State Judiciary and who should know the legal implication of such false claims would still resort to calumny is baffling. As repulsive as this approach is, it is extremely and palpably poignant and will continue to be a “weapon” of choice for those without any viable explanation when caught with their hands in the cookie jar. It is of utmost importance that relevant authorities pay attention to the way and manner facts are misrepresented in the media and religion, a very sensitive and emotive subject to Nigerians, is insidiously being employed as a tool to cause disharmony among the peace-loving people of Kebbi State.

– Dakingari  is Chief Press Secretary,  Government House, Kebbi State.

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