International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Gombe state chapter have appealed to National Judicial Council (NJC) not to renew the tenure of Acting Chief Judge of Gombe State, Justice Muazu Pindiga, for failure by the State Government to include the name of the most Senior Judge in the State, Justice Beatrice Iliya, among names submitted for consideration as substantive Chief Judge of the State, as demanded by NJC last August.
Chairperson of the Federation’s Branch in Gombe State, Elizabeth Jalo-Okotie and the Secretary, Mwalin Naomi Abdu, who made known their position in a oress statement, said, the unfair treatment against Justice Iliya, a female judge, demands such an action.
According to the statement, The NJC in August rejected a list submitted to it by Gombe State Government for consideration, asking the state government to do the right thing, by including the name of Justice Iliya, the most senior judge in the state, among names for consideration. This month (November), the State Government forwarded the same list rejected in August, without including the name of the most senior judge, which the NJC rejected again.
The statement Cited position taken by the NJC not to renew upon expiration tenure of the Acting Chief Judge of Cross River State, following refusal of the Governor of the State to swear-in Justice Ikpeme (the most senior Judge who is a female), FIDA is requesting NJC to extend the same yardstick to Gombe State.
The Federation praised NJC for rejecting twice, the names of nominees submitted by Gombe State Government, for excluding the most senior judge for no clear reasons.
“We would like to strongly commend the National Judicial Council for living up to its responsibility and office by not rubber-stamping this unjust action sought to be taken by the Governor of Gombe State against Justice Beatrice Iliya who has served the Gombe State Judiciary selflessly for over 20 years as a Judge. We received the news that the National Judicial Council has rejected the nominations sent by the State Judicial Service Commission twice which excluded the name of Justice Beatrice Iliya from the list of nominees for no justifiable reason. We pray that they will not relent in upholding truth and justice until the right thing is done by the State to preserve our democracy and fundamental right against discrimination on basis of gender or religion.
According to the press statement in full, “The issue of the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge in Gombe State has been in the public space for over a year now and has been taken up by various civil society groups and non-governmental organisations like the Centre for Public Accountability who have decried the injustice perpetrated against female judges in recent times.
FIDA Gombe at the earliest opportunity on 4th December, 2019 took to the streets to register her displeasure in front of the Government House against the actions of the Governor of Gombe State in swearing-in the current Acting Chief Judge, Hon. Justice M.A Pindiga rather than confirming the acting appointment of the Hon. Justice Beatrice Iliya who had previously acted in that capacity from 4th September, 2019 to 4th December, 2019 following the retirement of Hon. Justice Hakila Heman.
Alas, what FIDA Gombe described then as our fears that the Governor was seeking to bypass Hon. Justice Beatrice Iliya for no justifiable basis to appoint Hon. Justice M.A Pindiga as the Chief Judge who is by far, her junior at the Bar and the Bench has now materialized as the acting capacity of Justice M. A Pindiga has been renewed for four times now. Interestingly, the provision of S. 271(4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which, though was clearly applied out of context, was cited by the Governor as the basis for his refusal to extend the acting capacity of Justice Beatrice Iliya was not given the same interpretation when it came to renewing and extending the acting capacity of the current Acting Chief Judge. It is our stand that S. 271(4) of the Constitution was meant to prevent the present situation occurring in the Gombe State where after one year following the retirement of the former Chief Judge, there is yet to be appointed a substantive Chief Judge for the State and not meant to perpetrate injustice against female judges.
It is no longer news that indeed on two different occasions, the Gombe State Judicial Service Commission has sent a list of nominees excluding the name of Justice Beatrice Iliya to the National Judicial Council for recommendation to the Governor on the appointment of the susbtantive Chief Judge. This clearly confirms our earlier agitations that the Governor intends to edge out Justice Beatrice Iliya from being appointed as the substantive Chief Judge in Gombe State, which at the time, were labeled baseless allegations but has gradually become our reality as at present.
We are also aware that some quarters have feebly advanced the argument that the consideration of seniority as a factor to be borne in mind in appointing substantive Heads of Court is not a constitutional requirement but a convention. It is our position that the mere fact that it is accepted as a convention means it has come to be accepted as good and fair practice over the years. It is also our position and it stands to reason that if for any reason there should be a departure from this convention as we have seen in the cases where the most senior judge in the State happens to be a female, there should be some extenuating circumstances to warrant such departure. Until present, in all cases where female judges have been on the receiving end of this unjust action, we have not been presented with any such circumstances or justifiable reason including the case of Justice Beatrice Iliya in Gombe State for the departure from this accepted convention.
We would like to strongly commend the National Judicial Council for living up to its responsibility and office by not rubber-stamping this unjust action sought to be taken by the Governor of Gombe State against Justice Beatrice Iliya who has served the Gombe State Judiciary selflessly for over 20 years as a Judge. We received the news that the National Judicial Council has rejected the nominations sent by the State Judicial Service Commission twice which excluded the name of Justice Beatrice Iliya from the list of nominees for no justifiable reason. We pray that they will not relent in upholding truth and justice until the right thing is done by the State to preserve our democracy and fundamental right against discrimination on basis of gender or religion.
We are also aware that with respect to a similar situation of injustice against female judges in Cross River State following the refusal of the Governor of the State to swear-in Justice Ikpeme (the most senior Judge who is a female), the NJC has taken a position not to extend the acting capacity of the current Acting Chief Judge upon its expiry so as to nip this injustice in its bud. In the same vein, we call on the NJC to enforce the same position in Gombe State as the tenure of the current Acting Chief Judge will lapse on 4th December, 2020.
We also commend the effort of civil society groups and non-governmental organisations like the Centre for Public Accountability amongst others too numerous to mention who have taken up this fight on behalf of the female judges to condemn the injustice perpetrated against them. We also express our appreciation to our mother body, FIDA National for also standing by us and other branches facing same challenge.
Finally, we urge the Governor of Gombe State, His Excellency Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya to shun any advice or actions that promotes discrimination and rather uphold the letter and the spirit of our Constitution and his oath of office to do justice to all for the benefit and in the interest of the good people of Gombe State.
Mwalin Naomi Abdu