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Gombe: Female Judge petitions NJC on alleged plot to stop her elevation as CJ, Gombe State

Embattled female judge, Justice Beatrice Lazarus Iliya, has filed a petition before the National Judicial Council (NJC) over alleged plots by entrenched interests in the Gombe State government to prevent her from becoming the  Chief Judge of the State.

Her travails first became public knowledge sometime last year August when it was reported that as the most senior Judge in the state, she would be denied becoming the substantive Chief Judge of Gombe State, after the retirement of then Chief Judge.

In the petition addressed to the Chairman of the NJC and Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN),  Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, Justice Iliya chronicled the sequence of activities of the state government carries out to stop her from becoming the next Chief Judge of the state.

In the said petition dated April 21st, and titled, “Re- Presentation by Hon. Justice Beatrice L. Iliya in respect of the appointment of Chief Judge of Gombe state High Court”, obtained by our reporter through sources at the NJC, the petitioner, among other issues, accused the state government of “masterminding acts aimed at stopping me from becoming the Chief Judge of the state”.

In the petition she stated: “I was appointed the acting Chief Judge of Gombe State by a letter dated 2nd September, 2019 and pursuant to which I was sworn into office on the 4th September, 2019 in accordance with Section 271(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). “I have served, without renewal the three (3) months provided by the Constitution from 4th September, 2019 to 4th December 2019.

“In its meeting of 21st August, 2019 and by a letter ref. No. JSC/GMS/S/ADM/21/270 dated 2nd September, 2019 the Gombe State Judicial Service Commission (JSC) shortlisted and forwarded my name, Hon. Justice Beatrice Lazarus Iliya, as preferred candidate and that of Hon. Justice Muazu Abdulkadir Pindiga, as reserved candidate to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for recommendation to the Governor.

However, while I was acting as Chief Judge, during my inaugural meeting on 30th September, 2019 at the JSC, the Secretary of the JSC informed us that the NJC Secretary drew his attention to lack of accompanying documents to the JSC letter dated 2nd September, 2019, which nominated and forwarded our names, contrary to the NJC Guidelines and Procedural Rules, 2014.

“The missing requirements are the comments of the Chairman of the NBA Gombe Branch, comments of former/retired heads of Court in Gombe State, report of the Department of State Service, Certificate of Medical Fitness and signed Curriculum Vitae of the candidates. 

“Therefore, the JSC by a letter dated 2nd October, 2019, withdrew the nomination with a view to rectifying the anomalies before re-submitting our names. 

“I am aware that all the missing requirements have since been obtained except for the report of the DSS. 

“It is quite disheartening that the report of the DSS was unnecessarily delayed since from September, 2019 despite repeated reminders by the JSC”.

Continuing, she said: “Sir, my tenure in Acting capacity was not renewed, the Executive Governor appointed Hon. Justice Muazu A. Pindiga in Acting capacity on the 4th December, 2019. And thereafter renewed on the 4th March, 2020 and same will be expiring on the 4th of June, 2020.

“Sir, I was shocked and surprised to discover that while I was waiting for the re-presentation of our names after satisfying all the requirements of the NJC guidelines, the State JSC headed by Justice Muazu A. Pindiga, on the 19th of March, 2020 had a meeting where the Hon. Attorney General of Gombe State/Commissioner of Justice, Zubairu Mohammed Umar, served as pro-tempore Chairman.

“The Attorney General wrote a memorandum to the JSC whereby he excluded my name as a candidate to be re-submitted to the Council. 

“He based his decision to remove my name because of a petition against me written by (unnamed) grain merchant complaining to the Governor that I moved into the Office of the Chief Judge when I was in acting capacity.

“He also accused my administrative skills,  which he said is not par with that of Hon. Justice Muazu A. Pindiga. 

“He claimed that seniority is not a constitutional requirement for appointment of substantive Chief Judge, but a convention. 

“Based on the above, the JSC removed my name and shortlisted Hon. Justice Muazu A. Pindiga as the preferred candidate, and Hon Justice Joseph A. Awak, as reserved candidate without regard to the totality of the provisions of Section 271 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, read holistically.

“See also a letter dated 1st April, 2020 where the Hon. Attorney General responded to a petition dated 23rd March, 2020, written to the Gombe State House of Assembly against the action of the JSC.

“It is instructive to say, I was also invited by the House of Assembly Judiciary committee by a letter dated 30th March, 2020.

“Sir, I wish to take serious exception to the submissions of the Hon. Attorney General against me. It is quite unconstitutional for the Attorney General or the JSC to sit over a petition against me without giving me fair hearing.

“The powers of supervising, assessing and discipline of a judicial officer are that of the NJC and not that of a political appointee or the JSC.

“Sir, it is interesting to note that I am the most senior Judge in the Gombe State Judiciary, called to the Bar in 1981, while Hon Justice Joseph A. Awak and Hon Justice Muazu A. Pindiga, were called to the Bar in 1983 and 1988 respectively”.

Recall that in Kebbi state, another female judge, the former acting Chief Judge of Kebbi State, Elizabeth Karatu, was prevented by a Civil Defence operative attached to the state Highway Court from gaining access to her courtroom.

The judge, who was billed to retire on July 5, 2019, was supposed to rule on cases on July 4, her last day in office.

Justice Karatu, until her retirement, was the most senior judge in Kebbi State judiciary, but was controversially denied confirmation as the substantive chief judge, same as is happening in Gombe state at the moment. 

Issues of gender and religion have always been brought up as part of considerations for certain positions within government circles in the Northern part of the country. 

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