Support for the erstwhile acting Chief Judge of Gombe State swelled with the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) rising against what they termed recurring discrimination against female law practitioners in some states in the country.
They called for rising above such in the selection of a substantive Chief Judge for the state.
Apart from FIDA, a community leader and human rights activist, Yakubu Sarma, the Magatakadan Bambam, told the National Judicial Council (NJC), that the preferred candidate of the Gombe State Judicial Service Commission, Justice Mua’zu A. Pindiga, does not only have a senior currently serving in the bench, but that Mua’zu should first purge himself of allegations of gross financial misconduct leveled against him the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department of State Security (DSS).
FIDA expressed worries that deep seated discrimination against females are pronounced in the northern parts of the county, but advised the NJC not to succumb to such anachronistic and discriminatory antics.
In a petition it forwarded to the NJC signed by its Country Vice-President, Barr. Rhoda Prevail Tyoden, and National Secretary, Barr. Evelyn Membere-Asimiea, FIDA drew the attention of the NJC and in particular, its Chairman and Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Mohammed, to what they described as serious infractions by the Gombe State Judicial Service Commission where female Judge, Justice Beatrice Lazarus Iliya, is about to be denied elevation to the Chief Justice of the State, just because of her gender.
FIDA, a body of female lawyers which also promote, protect and preserve the rights of women and children, pointed out that several female Judges who had been appointed as Acting Chief Judge had been denied the privilege of rising to the pinnacle of being named substantive Chief Judge of affected states, and urged the NJC to put a stop such denial of human and professional rights.
FIDA reminded the NJC “that Hon. Justice Beatrice Lazarus Iliya, who is the most senior judge in the Gombe State Judiciary, and was appointed acting Chief Judge, instead of confirming her as the substantive Chief Judge upon the expiration of her acting capacity, two other judges were nominated, and her junior appointed as acting Chief Judge of the state”.
The activists stressed that, “FIDA Nigeria is dismayed that the name of Hon. Justice Beatrice Iliya is not one of the nominees.
“We strongly feel that this action is based on gender discrimination, as Hon. Justice Beatrice Lazarus Iliya has proved to have professional competence through her performance as acting Chief Judge of Gombe”.
They insist that the conditions spelt out in the Revised Rule 3(6) of the Procedural Rules of NJC required that the most senior judge be given first consideration for the position among other requirements.
They mentioned the experience of “Justice Akon B. Ikpeme, of the Cross River State Judiciary who, as the most senior judge, was denied appointment to the pinnacle as Chief Judge until the NJC under the leadership of Justice Tanko Mohammed intervened and ordered her swearing-in as substantive Chief Judge” of the state, and requested the NJC to do so in Gombe State.
“We can go on with several instances of female judges who have been denied elevations and appointments especially as Chief Judge in their State, this is more predominant in the North.
“We believe these actions are in contravention of Article 2.1.2 of the National Judicial Policy.
“We, therefore, appeal that the policies and rules of this honorable committee guide the recommendation of persons to be appointed Judicial Officers and to call to order State Executive heads to desist from all discriminatory actions in the appointment of judicial officers especially the position of Chief Judge.
“We, call for your intervention in the appointment of the Chief Judge of Gombe State and stop the gender discriminatory act of the Governor and injustice against Hon. Justice Beatrice Iliya.
On his part, rights activist, Sarma, pleaded with the NJC and the CJN, Justice Tanko Mohammed, not to accept further credibility burden to be imposed on the judiciary by confirming someone he claims is questionable in conduct.
The Magatakadan Bambam in his petition claimed that Justice Pindiga, allegedly has some issues to sort out with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department of State security (DSS).
In his petition dated 10th February, 2020, Sarma decried recommending Pindiga in place of Beatrice Lazarus Iliya by the Gombe State JSC to the NJC for appointment as the Chief Judge of the state.
He listed some companies: El-mulisla Electricity Nig. Ltd, Orfad Nigeria Ltd, Pindiga Investment & Agro Allied Nigeria Ltd and Savanna Petroleum and Engineering Company Nig. Ltd. (SAPECO), where he claimed Justice Pindiga has “substantial interests”.
He alleged that “Justice Pindiga had used the companies severally as a channels to carry out questionable acts in Gombe and Bauchi states using cronies.
“The interest he has in the above firms makes him vulnerable which has put him in a dangerous position with high tendencies to compromise justice in his position as Hon. Judge of a High Court contrary to his oath of office”.
He also claimed that the EFCC is investigating Justice Pindiga’s receipt of money from a former governor
of Bauchi State, which he claimed the anti-graft agency intercepted.
“Justice Pindiga was among the justices of the Supreme Court and Judges indicted and arrested by the Department of State Security (DSS) in their sting operations of October 7th and 8th of 2016.
“Justice M.A. Pindiga was arrested in his house in Gombe State and detained by the DSS.
“The case is still on investigation till date as the DSS has not come out to dismiss the case or cleared him of any wrong-doing.
“It was on record and in public domain that Justice Pindiga was asked to vacate or rather removed as the Chairman of Rivers State Election Petition Tribunal in 2015 on the account of poor performance, lack of requisite competence, coupled with seniority complications, as well as the DSS intelligence reports that points at him to have collected gratification to influence the decision of the Rivers State Electoral (Governorship) Tribunal.
“Justice Pindiga was subsequently replaced by Hon. Justice Suleiman Amborosa, who completed the work at the Tribunal.
“Contrary to his oath of office and code of conduct for public officers generally, not even to talk of a ‘judge’ Justice Pindiga was once declared bankrupt by a judgment of the Bauchi State High Court of Justice in a case of loan obtained from Union Bank that he was unable to service”.
He listed other issues against Justice Pindiga, and urged NJC “to salvage the image of the Judiciary by not recommending a person of questionable character as Chief Judge”, stressing that it “would not only setback administration of justice, but will be counterproductive.
Justice Pindiga’s nomination has received a barrage of petitions.
Contacted, Secretary of the NJC, Barr. Ahmed Gambo Saleh, confirmed that the NJC is in receipt of petitions and submissions made by interested parties in the matter, adding that the Council will analyse them during their meeting slated for Monday and Tuesday.