By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Decision of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to sidestep the status quo and elevate some senior lawyers into both the Supreme Court and Appeal Court bench has sparked off fresh controversy.
The CJN had in his bid to reposition the judiciary, requested the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, to nominate suitably qualified lawyers to be appointed as Justices.
Following the directive, the legal body okayed nine lawyers, comprising six Senior Advocates of Nigeria, for appointment as Justices of the Supreme Court.
However, a non-governmental organisation under the aegis of Advocacy for Advancement of Peace and Harmony in Africa Initiative, ADAPHAI, has petitioned the National Judicial Council, NJC, alleging that one of the nominees for appointment as Appeal Court Justice, is a card carrying member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The group, in the petition that was also forwarded to President of Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuka, alleged that Dr. Yemi Oke, from Ogun State, by virtue of his political affiliation, is unfit to seat on the appellate court bench.
The petition was signed by the Executive Director of the organisation, Mr Olaniyi Ajibola.
The group highlighted some major roles it said Oke played for the PDP in Ogun state.
It further annexed a newspaper report that in 2011, identified Oke as a Legal Adviser of the PDP in Ogun and member of the State Executive Committee of the party
It alleged that the appellate court Justice nominee once contested against the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole from Abeokuta South Federal Constituency.
The group therefore called for his disqualification through swift action “to save the bench from impeding embarrassment and odium”.
The petition read in part: “Our attention has been drawn to several publications in both online and the traditional media, in which one Dr. Yemi Oke from Ogun State was listed as having been recommended by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and shortlisted for appointment as a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
“We wish to say that we are alarmed at the development and felt it is incumbent on us, as an organization that is committed to the promotion of peace, good governance and democratic ethos to let you know that Dr. Yemi Oke is not a fit and proper person to be considered for such a privileged appointment.
“Dr. Yemi Oke is a well-known politician and a card-carrying member of the PDP in Ogun State where he once served as the Legal Adviser and a member of the Ogun State State Executive Committee (Exco) of the PDP (See the Certified True Copy (CTC) of The Punch newspaper of 4th January, 2011 under the headline “PDP returns Bankole’s opponents in Ogun” marked “Annexure I”).
“According to the Punch newspaper report, ‘The three aggrieved aspirants from the Abeokuta South Constituency running against Bankole are the former speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mrs. Titi Oseni; the PDP Legal Adviser, Dr. Yemi Oke; and a member of the G-9 lawmakers, Mr. Fasiu Bakene.
“The three contestants were disqualified by the screening panel headed by Gen. A.B Mamman from contesting the PDP primaries for National Assembly aspirants for their alleged roles in the political crisis in Ogun State.
“Oke was also disqualified on the basis that he failed to use his superior knowledge of the law to advise the party properly, thereby orchestrating the crisis in the party, using his position as a lawyer to destabilize the party and cause disunity contrary to desirable qualities and code of conduct guiding party members”.
Aside NJC and the PCA, copies of the petition were also forwarded to National President of the NBA, the Director-General of the State Security Service and Chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission.