A judicial advocacy group, Access to Justice, has accused the Lagos State government of breaching the National Judicial Council, NJC, guidelines in its latest appointment of judges into the state’s Judiciary.
At a press conference in Lagos, Monday, the group said the procedure adopted by the Lagos State Judicial Service Commission fell short of the mandatory standards stipulated in the NJC Judicial Appointment Guidelines of 2014.
“Access to Justice conducted interviews with officials of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in the Ikeja, Lagos Island, Ikorodu and Badagry branches, as well staff of the High Court,” Joseph Otteh, the organisation’s director told journalists.
“Our findings revealed that the appointments of the new High Court Judges in Lagos State were not conducted in accordance with the provisions of NJC guidelines.
Last month, the Lagos State government announced the appointment of three judges, bringing the total number of judges in the state to 60.
The new judges include Idowu Alakija, former Director of the State Directorate of Public Prosecution; Olugbemiga Ogundare, former Chief Registrar, High Court of Lagos State; and Serifat Solebo, former Deputy Registrar of the Court.
But Mr. Otteh accused the Chief Judge of Lagos State and the state’s Judicial Service Commission of failing to publicise the judicial vacancies prior to the judges’ appointment.
“Our research showed that the Lagos State JSC failed to publicise the judicial vacancies on notice boards of both the High Courts and the NBA branches, and, on its website,” Mr. Otteh said.
“In addition, there was no call or public notice whatsoever requesting an expression of interest from suitable candidates advertised on the Lagos State Judiciary’s website, on the notice boards of the High Court divisions, or on the notice boards of the NBA at Lagos Island, Ikeja, Ikorodu and Badagry.
“Besides verifying this from the notice boards, we interviewed the NBA officials in the aforesaid branches who confirmed this information.”
Mr. Otteh also said there was no evidence that a letter was written to the chairman of every branch of the NBA in the state requesting the nomination of suitable candidates.
“The Lagos State Judiciary also failed to send a provisional list of applicants and nominees to the respective NBA branches for comments.
“Although at the Ikorodu branch of the NBA, we confirmed that a shortlist of nominees was sent with requests for comments and suggestions on the suitability and eligibility of the candidates.
“This was, however, done a week before the judges were officially appointed suggesting that the notification was merely a formality and could not have altered the outcome.”
But an official of the Lagos State Judicial Service Commission insisted the government did no wrong in the appointment of the new judges.
“The Lagos State Judicial Service Commission does not approve judges’ appointment, it is the NJC,” said the staff who turned down requests for an official position of the agency on the claims, and declined to state his name.
“So, if there is anything, it is the NJC that should be accused of not following its own guidelines.”
The NJC did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
Mr. Otteh called on the NJC to hold the Chief Judge of Lagos State accountable for failure to comply with its guidelines, as well as adopt a more rigorous verification criteria leading to the appointment of judges.
“Access to Justice now invites the NJC to independently investigate claims suggesting that the NJC guidelines were flouted in the recruitment of new judges of the Lagos State High Court,” Mr. Otteh said.