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Court dismisses senior lawyers’ suit challenging appointment of judges in Kogi

Fair comment on a matter of public interest is not actionable

A Federal High Court in Abuja has thrown out a lawsuit filed by seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria against the National Judicial Council (NJC) and others concerning the alleged improper appointment of judges in Kogi State.

Justice James Omotosho, delivering the judgment, ruled that the plaintiffs did not have the legal standing to bring the case and that the lawsuit itself lacked substance.

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The seven aggrieved lawyers, all from Kogi State, include Yunus Usman, SAN; Jibrin Okutepa, SAN; Patrick Okolo, SAN; Abdullahi Haruna, SAN; Reuben Atabo, SAN; Shaibu Aruwa, SAN; and Johnson Usman, SAN.

Their suit, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/05/2024, targeted the NJC, Kogi State Judicial Service Commission (KSJSC), Kogi State Governor, and the Attorney-General (A-G) and Commissioner for Justice of the state as the first to fourth defendants, respectively.

They sought an injunction to halt the appointment of new judicial officers until strict adherence to legal regulations.

In their filing dated January 4 and submitted on January 8, they contested that the selection of candidates for judgeships did not solely consider merit, competence, legal knowledge, or professional experience, alleging political and ethnic interference.

The NJC, in response, requested the court to dismiss the suit due to jurisdictional deficiencies, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked the legal standing to bring the case. The second to fourth defendants echoed this request, asking for the suit’s dismissal.

The plaintiffs’ grievances stemmed from the chief judge of Kogi State’s shortlisting of certain judicial officers for appointment to the state’s High Court, Sharia Court of Appeal, and Customary Court of Appeal.

The NJC had suspended the judge selection process following a letter from the seven senior lawyers indicating their intent to challenge the appointments legally.

In his ruling, Justice Omotosho emphasised that the plaintiffs, who were not seeking judicial appointments, lacked the requisite legal standing to pursue the case. He noted that their lawsuit was speculative and lacked substance.

While acknowledging that courts have sometimes expanded the concept of legal standing to include public interest cases, he stressed the need for a direct connection between the plaintiffs’ interests and the defendants’ actions, which was absent in this case.

Furthermore, Omotosho highlighted the NJC’s constitutional independence in judicial appointments, noting that interference by the court would contravene the law.

He also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims regarding the state of courtrooms in Kogi State, deeming their evidence inadmissible hearsay.

He ruled that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing and that the lawsuit lacked merit, leading to its dismissal.