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Special Report Uncovers Nepotism Concerns in Nigeria’s Appeals Court Appointments

In late April 2024, Nigeria’s Chief Justice Olukayode Ariwoola convened and chaired a “National Summit on Justice” in Abuja, the country’s capital. Addressing attendees with a sense of grave responsibility, the Chief Justice called for comprehensive judicial reforms to ensure justice is not only carried out, but is also plainly perceived as fair and impartial by all. He specifically urged identifying systemic “gaps and inconsistencies” hampering efficient justice administration.

One area plagued by such gaps and inconsistent practices, while being pivotal to justice outcomes, is the appointment of judges in Nigeria. Yet this process remains largely opaque, with little public visibility and minimal opportunity for debate.

In December 2023, the Senate approved 11 new Supreme Court justices, all previously serving on the Court of Appeal. Along with existing vacancies from deaths and retirements, this created 22 total openings on the Appeal Court bench approved by the National Judicial Council (NJC) to be filled. In January 2024, the Court of Appeal President Monica Dongban-Mensem, with the Chief Justice-led NJC’s consent, requested nominations from court heads nationwide.

However, just three years prior in November 2020, the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) had approved a rule proposed by Dongban-Mensem herself – that judges with under 5 years’ experience, or those unable to serve 5 years before retirement, should not be considered for the Appeals Court.

Disturbingly, on April 2, 2024, the same FJSC approved Dongban-Mensem’s list of 22 Court of Appeal nominees featuring numerous apparent violations of this very stipulation she instituted. The list included judges from all six geopolitical zones.

One such nominee is Eleojo Enenche from Kogi State, who was appointed an FCT High Court judge only in November 2021 after serving as an assistant to the Chief Judge there. With under 3 years’ experience, few of Enenche’s cases would have reached judgment, let alone faced appeals scrutiny – making this a glaringly premature elevation by any objective criteria.

Similarly, Victoria Nwoye from Anambra, who only became a lawyer in 2005, has under 5 years’ experience since her 2019 appointment as a judge. She currently ranks dead last out of 30 judges in seniority in Anambra’s High Court.

Other nominees like Henry Aja-Onu Njoku (Ebonyi), Lateef Lawal-Akapo (Lagos), and Abdullahi Liman (Nasarawa) are too close to mandatory retirement at 70 to serve meaningful tenures on the Appeal Court.

Compounding concerns, NJC rules stipulate all nominations must include “detailed medical certificates” from government hospitals, as judges’ health status impacts public interests. However, one nominee – Eberechi Nyesom-Wike from the South-South – was revealed in June 2023 to be a recent cancer patient by her husband, raising doubts over her readiness for such demanding roles.

The list shows apparent favoritism too, with Oyo State – home of the outgoing Chief Justice – receiving two new Appeal Court nominees for a total of four, while Ogun State got none, retaining just one.

More damningly, the FCT High Court’s hiring concurrently included the Chief Justice’s daughter-in-law, the Appeal Court President’s daughter, and the FCT Chief Judge’s daughter among other closely connected “judicial daughters.”

Legal experts lambasted the appointments as flagrant cronyism and nepotism prohibited by the judicial code of conduct. They warned such blatantly compromised processes at the highest levels erode public faith in the judiciary’s independence and integrity.

The revelations sparked anger, with demands for an urgent overhaul of the shadowy judicial appointments system to eliminate contradictory rules, restore adherence to criteria, and remove systemic enablers of favoritism undermining Nigeria’s rule of law.

Izu Mgbaemena

I'm Izu Mgbaemena, a Nigerian-based writer for Naijadazz. I love sharing stories about Nigerian culture, food, music and more. As a frequent contributor to Naijadazz, I relish the opportunity to showcase the endlessly fascinating aspects of Nigerian culture to a global audience.