The Warri Branch of Nigerian Bar Association,(NBA) has rejected the proposed list by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) of Delta State to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for the appointment of judges in the State, knocking the State Chief Judge for appointing his son as High Court Judge, saying that due process was not followed.
In a petition letter to the Chairman, National Judicial Council (NJC), and made available to our correspondent in Warri, the Warri Branch of the NBA also called for an in-depth review of the process by the NJC.
The strongly worded letter was signed by Michael A. Asugo, Esq (Chairman) and John E. Aruoture, Esq (Secretary).
The letter titled, “Re: Appointment of Judges in Delta State: A rejection of the purported list by Judicial Service Commission of Delta State and a call for an investigative review of the process”, the Branch said it noticed some serious deficiencies in the exercise “such as lack of assessment of intellectual suitability of the candidates, scrutiny of their records such as cases conducted by them or judgement delivered by them, etc.”
They said that prior to a letter written to them by the JSC dated June 6th 2019 calling on them to comment on the suitability or otherwise of 36 shortlisted persons for the appointment as Judges in the Delta State Judiciary, there was no notification to the branch or any other Branch of the NBA in Delta State as provided for the National Judicial Commission (NJC) guidelines for the appointment of judges.
“The screening of the shortlisted candidates that was conducted by the JSC on the 16th of July 2019 was a sham that could not possible determine the suitability or otherwise of any candidate for appointment as a judge of the High Court.
“When the names of the persons allegedly picked for appointment filtered into the public domain, it became clear that the list of persons forwarded by the JSC for the consideration of the NJC, is made up of some hand-picked candidates and the blood relations of the Chief Judge of the Delta State, Hon. Justice Marshall Umukoro and the President of the Customary Court of Appeal, Hon Justice S.O.N. Ogene,” the branch said in the letter.
The Branch also explained that “contrary to the clear cut provisions of Rules 3(1)(a)(I) of the National Judicial Council Procedural Rules (the “Guidelines”), no call was made for the expression of interest by suitable candidates by way of public notice on the website of the Judicial Service Commission/Committee concerned.
“Also, contrary to Rules 3(1)(a)(III) of the Guidelines, no letter was written to the JSC to “the Chairman of any Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association in the state concerned, asking for nomination of suitable candidates for the proposed Judicial appointment and requesting that he/she brings to the notice of suitable candidates the call for expression of interest by each of them.”
The Branch alleged that only a selected few who were highly connected were informed of the the commencement of the process made the list, stressing that this cannot be the intendment of the rules referred above.
They also said that an appeal to the JSC to supply the criteria used for short-listing the first 36 candidates and the final selection of five candidates with five alternates, was also ignored.
“Although the JSC has refused to reveal the names of the final five candidates and the five alternates that have been forwarded to the NJC for consideration and the criteria for choosing them, it is however now a well known fact that the names include Onome Marshal Umukoro, the son of the Chief Judge of Delta State and Aaron Ighoverio, a cousin to the President of the Customary Court of Appeal, Delta State,” the Branch wrote.
The Branch said that the process that threw up the names could not be said to be transparent and based on merit, stressing that it was riddled with favouritism and nepotism and as such cannot be acceptable to the Branch.
“The position of the Branch, as stakeholders in the adminstration of Justice in Delta State, has always been to promote merit and transparency in the appointment of judges. To this end, always boldly disclose the names of persons who in it’s opinion, by their antecedent at the Bar and/or lower Bench, have shown that they are unsuitable for appointment as judges of the High Court.
The Branch said it was rejecting the list because if accepted and the persons appointed as judges, it would set a very dangerous and destructive precedent in Delta State.
“The Delta State Jidiciary does not belong to the the Chief Judge of the state and the President of the Delta State Customary Court of Appeal. It is not possible or fair for the Ijaws with four local governments areas in the state and the Isokos with two local governments areas to have two judges each in the state Judiciary, and for the Marshal Umukoro family alone to have two judges. This is not fair and it negates the principal of geographical spread contained in the NJC policy on the appointment of judges,” the branch said further.