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Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Anxiety Over Next Chief Judge Of Nigeria’s Federal High Court As Justice Auta Bows Out

Anxiety Over Next Chief Judge Of Nigeria’s Federal High Court As Justice Auta Bows Out

Justice Ibrahim Auta

* Tussle over who succeeds him begins at FHC

* Justice Bulkachuwa’s scenario may likely reoccur

* Certain stakeholders prefer female judge as CJ

* We’ll resist those plotting to foist female judge as CJ of FHC – Lawyers

Anxiety is now trailing activities at the headquarters of the Federal High Court in Abuja as the court begins its new legal year as well as the appointment of the next Chief Judge (CJ) of the court.

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The development is sequel to the fact that the outgoing CJ of the FHC, Justice Ibrahim Ndahi Auta, is expected to bow out on September 19, 2017, when he will clock the mandatory retirement age of 65.
But preparations for his valedictory session and a book launch written in his honour on September 19, 2017 are already in top gear.

Since the inception of the Nigeria’s Judiciary, the tradition is that the position of heads of courts are usually based on seniority except in a rare situation whereby the next in line of seniority is facing allegations of corruption and other offences that may prevent him from assuming the headship of the court.

This scenario occurred when the then President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Ayo Isa Salami, was suspended for more than a year while the number two in the line of seniority, the late Justice Dalhatu Adamu, was appointed as the acting PCA for three consecutive times.

But he was never made the PCA due to adverse security report while the number three in the line of seniority, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, was appointed above the late Adamu as the substantive PCA.

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The National Judicial Council (NJC), headed by the former CJN, Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, was said to have explained that allegations of misconduct against the late Adamu prevented the NJC from adhering to the tradition of seniority and later appointed Justice Bulkachuwa as the PCA.

But the issue of who succeeds Justice Auta has assumed a new dimension as certain issues are now cropping up and may change the narrative on seniority.

By tradition, the number two judge in the FHC and the next in line as the next CJ on seniority is Justice Abdul Kafarati while the number three is Justice John Tsoho.

But a reliable source at the Federal High Court confided in our reporter that series of meetings are ongoing in a bid to pick who will succeed Justice Auta.

The source, who sought anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, stated that certain stakeholders are rooting for Bulkachuwa scenario and scheming for a female judge as the next CJ of the FHC.

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According to the source, the stakeholders are doing everything thing possible to discredit number two and three who are next in line for the CJ post in order to pave way for the female judge to emerge as the next CJ.

He said: “It is glaring how these people are now desperate. You will be surprised to know that a lot of petitions have been emanating from every angle against one of the judge who had performed creditably.

“Since I’ve been a judicial officer of this court, this is the first time I will hear that a petitioner who sought to withdraw his petition against a judge will be encouraged by a member of the panel not to do so”.

The source added that one of the influential members of the panel handling the petition is one of the stakeholders planning to install the female judge as the next CJ.

Meanwhile, some senior lawyers also confided in our correspondent that they would challenge the stakeholders in order to prevent them from denying the judicial officer from assuming the position of the next CJ.

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One of the senior lawyers, who confirmed the existence of the plot said, “We are already on standby watching what is going on. We are going to resist them this time around”.

We recall that Justice Auta was sworn in as the CJ of the court, following the disengagement of Justice Dan Abutu who clocked the 65 years mandatory retirement age for judicial officers on May 11, 2011.

Justice Auta was sworn in by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alloysious Katsina Alu.

His career at the bench truly kicked off when he moved from Borno State judiciary to the FHC in 1990.

He inched up the ladder leaving profound judgements and astounding precedents in his wake.

In March 2011, he was appointed the acting CJ of the Federal High Court and then confirmed as the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court on May 11, 2011.

In the course of his remarkable career, there have been a myriad of appointments trailing his rise including his appointment as the National President, Magistrates Association from 1986-1988.

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