Politicians should leave the Federal High Court alone

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By Sam Ekpe

“The  Judiciary is the last hope of the common man”, is a very popular maxim in the country. Every one, both the high and mighty and the downtrodden places the Judiciary in very high pedestal. Even without any funds to prosecute their cases, the poor have willing and available public spirited lawyers to handle cases on their behalf.
Generality of Nigerians, therefore, have very high regard for the judiciary and see it as a no go area in our everyday life of politics with bitterness, without remorse and restraint. The judiciary is seen as a hallowed chambers, with even handed dispensation of justice and equity to all. Through the ages from our independence to the military rule years and now in our nascent democracy the Judiciary has been regarded as a neutral body that is not involved in the huzzle and buzzle of our everyday political life.
Even in a few cases when some judicial officers were involved in malfeasance the National Judicial Council had stepped in to mete appropriate sanction, the most recent being their recommendation of the immediate retirement of Justice Madaki of the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal.
When, therefore, the abhorrent and divisive issue of politics rears  its ugly head in the Judiciary every patriotic Nigerian should  feel concerned and worried. It is in this light that one views the news item in the  Nation Newspaper edition of Tuesday November 17, 2015 page 5 titled Succession crisis hits federal high court over chief registrar’s post.
An analysis of the publication reveals that it is at best a sponsored writeup intended to project and protect the interests of its sponsors. It is very unfortunate that these days the pages of reputed newspapers are used to serve particular interests. The news report gives the indication that the Management of the Federal High Court are pushing for the appointment of the next Chief Registrar of the court, irrespective of the status on seniority cadre and “That there were indications that some workers might take the plot to distort the succession system to Prof Itse Sagay-led Presidential Advisory Committee on War Against Corruption. The workers including some Deputy Chief Registrars have vowed to resist the aberration of seniority list for pecuniary political gains .
After listing the names of past Chief Registrars of the Federal High Court whose appointments were allegedly based on seniority, the author of the publication then contradicted himself by stating  that “ Although seniority has been the norm in appointing all the Chief Registrars, there is no regulation or law saying appointment  must be made on seniority “. If this is the case why all the noise and unnecessary dust that is being raised?
Why raise this issue at all if seniority per se is not the only criterion that is considered in promotion in the Public Service. Even in the Armed Forces, Police and other paramilitary organizations, is seniority the only basis in promotion exercise?
Even under the President Buhari administration, many promotion exercises have been taking place without the promoted officers being necessarily the most senior. The present Service Chiefs were promoted over and above some officers that were senior in rank to them. Ogbonnaya Onovo a former Inspector General of Police served under his junior Mike Okiro before he was appointed Inspector General.
The present Commandant General of National Security and Defence Corps (Civil Defence) was promoted above his senior. It is only arguably in the appointment of Chief Justices of the Federation that recourse is made strictly on seniority of Justices of the Court.
The brains or ghosts behind the present agitation in the Federal High Court are also distorting facts engaging in outright falsehood and what students of logic will describe as fallacy of hasty generalisation.
For instance, they allege that “this is the first time we are experiencing this kind of thing. Once the administrative cadre is altered, favourism will set in and it will be bad for the Judiciary at this level”.
But in truth and in fact this will not be the first time seniority was not considered in promotion to  Chief Registrars of Federal Judiciary.
The present Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court was not the most senior when he was appointed. He was even No 3 in hierarchy. Similarly the Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal was even no 6 in order of seniority. The Chief Registrar of FCT High Court was not even in the service cadre of Federal High Court but was picked from Sharia Court of Appeal. He was only just recently promoted to Chief Registrar of FCT High Court.
The agitators also neglected/refused to inform whoever cares to listen that the three Senior Deputy Registrars of the Federal High Court were promoted on the same day. How do you now determine who is the most senior to be promoted Chief Registrar.
In all organizations, including the Public Service and the private sector, the most important considerations for promotion of officers are versatility, competence and administrative capacity, trust and reliability, and general acceptability of the officer by the staff of the organization. The present unease about the appointment of a new Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court, apparently sponsored by vested interests is absolutely unnecessary.
Happily the Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court has made elaborate clarification on this matter in her publication in the Nation Newspaper of Thursday November 24, 2015, the most significant being that a substantive Chief Registrar of Federal High Court cannot be appointed while the sitting Chief Registrar has not been sworn in as a Judge and that there is no regulation or law that the most senior Deputy Chief Registrar must be the Chief Registrar.

.Ekpe  writes from Abuja.

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