SMBL, GUDO, Others Demand Confirmation of Justice Mensem as Appeal Court President
By Ralph Madugu
A group from the South and Middle Belt of Nigeria, under the aegis of Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), has tasked President Muhammadu Buhari to expedite action towards the confirmation of the appointment of Justice Monica Dongban Mensem as the substantive President of the Court of Appeal in the interest of justice.
Reacting to Col. Abubakar Umar Dangiwa’s open letter to the president in which he called him to do the right thing so as to dispel the fears that ethnic and religious factors now play roles in judicial appointments, the forum in a statement signed by Yinka Odumakin (South-West), Guy Ikokwu (South East), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-South) and Dr. Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt) said: “Having read the open letter by Col Abubakar Umar, we are constrained to call on President Buhari to immediately confirm Justice Mensem as the substantive President of the Court of Appeal without going through another acting term.
“We are not interfering in the judiciary, we are only calling out the President to do the right thing so as to dispel the fears that ethnic and religious factors now play roles in judicial appointments.
“We are appealing to the Justice, who is next in line, to know that becoming Appeal Court President under this circumstance would be infra dig as it would be seen as a reward for being on the panel that ruled in favour of President Buhari in the last election petition.
“The path of honour we recommend here was toed by judges of honour in Kogi State recently when the number two and three refused to accept being made number one in controversial circumstances. The Chief Judge served out his tenure.
“President Buhari should save the government the possibility of such a situation by confirming who was recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) immediately.”
Similarly, the Nigeria Christian Graduate Fellowship (NCGF) has called 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 recently.
NCGF, in a release made available on its blog, said that it was concerned to read from some newspapers that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the extension of the appointment of Justice M.B. Dongban-Mensem as Acting President of the Court of Appeal for another three months.
“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 fellowship stated that the National Judicial Council in its press release of April 26, 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. Hence, hence it was disturbing that, rather than sending her name to the Senate for confirmation as recommended by the National Judicial Council, the president chose to reappoint her on acting capacity for another three months.
It added that 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 was nonetheless worrisome that now that the Council had asked that Justice Dongban-Mensem be confirmed, the president had not offered any explanation for ignoring that recommendation.
While recalling 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 NCGF described the action as not meeting 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.
“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.
“The demonstrable fact 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.
“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.”
Meanwhile, the Gamai Unity and Development Organisation (GUDO), has voiced out against what it termed the “politicization and violation of the established tradition of succession to the Presidency of the Court of Appeal for which Justice Dongban-Mensem is eminently qualified and payed her due impeccably. Having served in Acting capacity, it is proper that she be given the presidential nod to carry out this National assignment to its logical conclusion as the SUBSTANTIVE President.”
GUDO is a socio-cultural platform of the Gamai people saddled with the task of protecting and defending the interest of Gamai nation as well as serving as the platform for the promoting a seamless and simulated race relationship, including, engagement between Gamai people and other ethnic nationalities in Plateau state and the country at large
The organisation in a press statement signed by its Secretary General, Bitkop Damsuk Fidelis, said it received with mixed feelings and reservations the rumours of the grand plans to substitute the Acting President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, with someone next in line to her in the order of seniority, adding that little wonder, in an open letter to the President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, Col. (Rtd) Umar Dangiwa opined that the president should be seen to belong to all of us Nigerians, irrespective of tribe, religion and region hence GUDO equally beckons on the president’s good office to follow the path of honor by actualizing the recommendation of the National Judicial Council to submit Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem’s name to the Senate for confirmation as the substantive President of the Court of Appeal.
“The attention of the Gamai Unity and Development Organisation (GUDO) has been drawn to the news making the rounds concerning our illustrious daughter, Plateau State’s Amazon and shining light of the North Central Region, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, the Acting-President of the Court of Appeal, Abuja.
“Since her recommendation by the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the approval given by H.E President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR Monica Dongban-Mensem has discharged her duties with commitment, courage and determination; the very reason why the National Judicial Council (NJC) has submitted her name and recommended her for confirmation as SUBSTANTIVE PRESIDENT of the Court of Appeal.”
“We are compelled, on behalf of the entire Gamai people both at home and in the Diaspora, to speak strongly against what appears to be a grand design to short-change our daughter, Plateau State and the North Central region as a whole of this glorious opportunity to serve Nigeria.”
The statement added that what is most worrisome to GUDO, is the “emerging arm-twisting and baseless allegations being bandied by enemies of justice and diligence,” all in a view to pave the way for their preferred choice to assume the Presidency of the Court of Appeal.
“This is a plot that is already being interpreted in negative light by a wide spectrum of Nigerians.
“Details of these orchestrated and unwholesome moves are already in the public domain, and the dire consequences of such actions on the integrity of the Judiciary and our National unity are rearing their heads. It is our strong belief that the National Judicial Council should stand firm in defence of their submission and recommendations to the President, Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, for the confirmation of Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem as Substantive President of the Court of Appeal, anything short of this will also put the Judiciary in bad light giving a precedence which is capable of demeaning the status of the Judiciary and compromising its integrity as the hallowed temple of Justice. Such subterfuge is also a bad omen, with great potentials to undermine the much-clamoured good governance and rule of law of this administration.”
While calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to do the needful, the organization also appealed to the National Assembly, members of the Bar and the Bench, Civil Society and other stakeholders and political leaders to lend their voice against what it described as “dangerous precedence and act of impunity that is capable of derailing the most cherished sanctity of the Judiciary in the dispensation of Justice in the country.”
It would be recalled that a former military administrator of Kaduna State, Col Abubakar Umar Dangiwa (rtd), recently in an open letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari opined that Nigeria has become dangerously polarised and risk sliding into crisis on account of President Buhari’s lopsided appointments which he said continues to give undue preference to some sections of the country over others.
In the open letter, the former governor urged the president to approve the confirmation of the acting president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Mensem, or risk being accused of favouring only northern Muslims for sensitive positions.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari, in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, in Abuja on Friday, May 29, 2020, announced the re-appointment of Justice Monica Mensem for another three months’ period.
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).”
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 April 17, 2014, after she was confirmed by the senate.