NCGF Raises Serious Concerns Over the Headship of the Court of Appeal

NCGF-300x265The Nigeria Christian Graduate Fellowship (NCGF) is very concerned to read from some newspapers that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the extension of the appointment of Justice M.B. Dongban-Mensem as Acting President of the Court of Appeal for another period of three months.

This was contained in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, in Abuja on Friday, 29th May, 2020. The statement explained that the re-appointment in acting capacity was “under Section 238(4) and (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).”

It must be noted that Justice M. B. Dongban-Mensem was first appointed Acting President of the Court of Appeal by President Buhari on March 5, 2020 for an initial period of three months, with effect from March 6, 2020, after the statutory retirement from service of Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa who had been the substantive President of the Court of Appeal since being sworn in on 17TH April, 2014, after her Senate confirmation.

According to the statement issued on Justice Dongban-Mensem’s first acting appointment by President Buhari, the judge, who was the next most senior judge of the Court of Appeal, was to act pending the time when a substantive appointment to the position of the President of the Court of Appeal would be made by President Buhari, subject to confirmation by Senate.

The NCGF is deeply concerned about this reappointment on an acting capacity for three more months of Justice M. B. Dongban-Mensem, who is the most senior Justice of the Court of Appeal, rather than her being confirmed in the position. The following reasons are germane to our position:

  1. The National Judicial Council in its press release of 26th April, 2020 stated clearly that the Council, pursuant to its constitutional powers, had recommended Hon. Justice M. B. Dongban-Mensem as President of the Court of Appeal to President Buhari. We are therefore concerned that rather than sending her name to the Senate for confirmation as recommended by the National Judicial Council, the President has chosen instead to reappoint her on acting capacity for another three months, thereby ignoring the recommendation of the National Judicial Council.
  1. Although President Buhari could claim that the National Judicial Council had not made any recommendation for the appointment of a substantive President of the Court of Appeal at the expiration of the tenure of Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, thus necessitating the initial acting appointment of Hon. Justice M. B. Dongban- Mensem on March 5, 2020, it is nonetheless worrisome that now that the National Judicial Council has asked that Justice Dongban-Mensem be confirmed, the President has not offered any explanation for ignoring that recommendation.
  1. The NCGF recalls that a similar pattern and scenario played out following the appointment of the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Walter Onnoghen, whose nomination was sent to the Senate by then Acting President, Yemi Osibanjo, when President Buhari was away from Nigeria on medical tourism. The action apparently did not meet with the approval of the President’s cabal; hence Hon. Justice Onnoghen was shamefully hounded out of office, giving way to the present Sharia-compliant Chief Justice who obviously was preferred to Hon. Justice Onnoghen from the onset. This state of affairs is of serious concern.
  1. Given the above, the obvious conclusion regarding the current situation would be that President Buhari and his cabal have someone waiting in the wings, pending the time when some trumped-up charges of misconduct would be mischievously dug up against Hon. Justice M. B. Dongban-Mensen, upon which she would be declared “unfit” for the position of President of the Court of Appeal.
  1. The demonstrable facts regarding President Buhari’s government is that he tends to appoint only Muslims from the core North to head important federal government institutions. Obviously, Hon. Justice M. B. Dongban-Mensen, who is a Plateau State indigene and a non-Muslim, like Hon. Justice Onnoghen, does not “qualify” in this respect. This is no way to conduct the affairs of a federal government – alienating a large proportion of the citizens from the highest offices, even when they are the most qualified.
  1. The NCGF is concerned that over the 40 years’ existence of the Court of Appeal no Christian has been deemed fit to be President of the Court.

The NCGF, therefore, hereby calls on President Buhari to act rightly and justly by immediately sending the name of Justice M. B. Dongban- Mensen to the Senate for confirmation, as recommended by the National Judicial Council at its 91st meeting held online. We believe that a government that is unjust and unfair is not worthy of the trust vested in it by the people.

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