On Wednesday, the Oyo State Judicial Service Commission said that claims that the procedure for the appointment of judges into the Oyo State Judiciary was needlessly delayed because of religious bias and untoward interest from certain quarters are misleading.
The Commission said that the false narrative, which gained traction following the unfortunate demise of three of the nominees whose names were already forwarded to the National Judicial Council (NJC), Abuja, is bothersome and untrue, warning those trying to cause confusion to discontinue.
In a statement signed by the Commission, it elucidated that the delay was because of a petition forwarded to the state government and the National Judicial Service Commission against the process, the lengthened strike embarked upon by judicial workers and the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited movements of NJC officials who were meant to visit the state for inspection.
The Commission further added that the allegation that Governor Seyi Makinde’s bias against Islam and the alleged untoward interest from the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General of the State, Professor Oyelowo Oyewo, were “false, unfounded and lacked substance in every material sense.”
It noted that the death of the three of the candidates shortlisted is sad and regrettable while sympathising with their families and the Judiciary family in the state.
The Commission warned, “that no one should seek to reap any benefit from the death of another or seek to cause confusion as a result of the deaths because everyone would answer the call one day.”
It affirmed that the method for the appointment of judges in the state had been driven by merit, noting that the state engaged consultants to handle the examination, while Judges of the High Court as well as members of the NJC participated in the interviews.
The Commission equally said that Governor Makinde did not play any role in the delay in the appointment of judges and that he had also insisted on merit, noting that the governor is only a consenting authority on the matter and as such could not be accused of bias against any religion.
It added that “the Attorney General/Commissioner for Justice, who is the Vice Chairman of the JSC and a statutory member, also did not showcase a form of bias/interest that threatened the fundamentals as set out by the JSC in any way.”
The statement read: “In recent times, a few public commentators have raised vexatious but unwarranted comments about the procedure for appointment of judges into Oyo State Judiciary.
“This has been especially so following the unfortunate demise of three of the nominees whose names were already forwarded to the National Judicial Council (NJC), Abuja, in succession.
“In criticising the process, the antagonists raised three points: That the process was dragged unnecessarily; that certain influential persons like the Attorney General/Commissioner for Justice, Prof Oyelowo Oyewo, had interests; that there was religious consideration/bias or that Governor Makinde was allegedly guilty of “Islamophobia.”
“For the avoidance of doubt, the allegations are false, unfounded and lacked substance in every material sense.
“Let it be on record that one of the causes of the delay was the petition against the process forward to the State government and the NJC.
“The government and the NJC were on the same page on the need to treat the petition to neutralise misgivings from any quarters. That was done with an eye on delivering a flawless and judicious process.
“Two other developments; the prolonged strike embarked upon by judicial workers and the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited movements of NJC officials who were to visit the State for inspection further contributed to the delay.
“Another unfortunate allegation is the reference to religious bias. Those who project this view claimed that the government/Governor was biased against Islam, a clearly unfounded insinuation. “Some of them descended to the use of hate words to drive their unedifying claims.
“Such is not only unfounded but wicked and preposterous. While it is so unfortunate and sad that the State lost three of its finest legal minds in a row and regrettably so, the three are adherents of Islam, these are deaths too coincidental, but the deaths are all attributable to natural occurrences. Any imputation of motives to such fatalities would amount to a wicked act of dancing on the grave of the deceased.
“No one should play games with the death of another because nobody has absolute control over his or her life. Our take is that whatever is mysterious to humans is not mysterious to the Almighty, but death remains a debt owed by all mortals.”
The Commission stated that the appointment process has always been under the JSC, which is chaired by the Chief Judge, whom it said is a Muslim.
“The JSC is chaired by His Lordship Justice Muktar Abimbola, a Muslim. The body equally has a good number of Muslim members including the Secretary, but religious considerations were never part of the qualifications for its composition.
“In effect, there was no basis for and there can never be religious bias especially in a committee where notable Muslims were well represented,” the statement added.
It further stated that candidates were chosen from the three levels-Magistracy, the Ministry and the private Bar, adding that since the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), guarantees that a lawyer is qualified for appointment as a Judge after 10 years at the Bar, many lawyers would qualify at every instance.
The Commission also submitted that even though no law completely states how judges appointments should be made, Oyo State considered merit and other criteria including hard work, integrity and discretion of government for fairness.
According to the Commission, all criteria adopted are, however, subservient to NJC’s guidelines and approval.
The statement read: “In the case of Oyo State, merit was signposted as the main pillar and that was why consultants were engaged to conduct the examination, while Judges of the High Court as well as members of the NJC participated in the interviews. It is a meritorious process. The process was merit-based and merit-driven.
“Contrary to insinuations by those who read religious bias into the ongoing process, we hold that no bias or religious imputations are visible.”
It admonished all never to see to politicise the death of the fallen compatriots.
“While the death of three of the candidates shortlisted remains regrettable, we insist that no one should seek to reap any benefit from the death of another or seek to cause confusion as a result of the deaths because everyone would answer the call one day. Only God can give the crown.
“His Excellency, Governor Seyi Makinde did not play any role in causing the delay because the factors are systemic issues that are beyond the powers of the State. Indeed, the Governor can at best be classified as playing only the role of a consenting authority. He has continued to insist on merit, by declaring at all times that the State must put its best foot forward.”
The Commission stated that due to the delay, more vacancies have now surfaced in the judiciary, remarking that those who missed out in the ongoing process will benefit from following processes.
The Commission promised that the subsequent processes for 2019, 2020 and 2021 appointments will be smooth.
“With the enabling environment being provided for the State Judiciary by the Makinde administration, we are assured that subsequent processes for 2019, 2020 and even 2021 will be executed with the smoothness they deserve,” the statement added.