The Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday struck out a suit demanding three slots for the South-east region in the process of appointing 18 judges for the Court of Appeal.

A group, Alaigbo Development Foundation, had filed the suit on March 16, 2021, asking the court to stop the appointment exercise unless the Igbo-dominated South-east geopolitical zone was given three slots in the appointment process.

President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the appointment of the 18 Justices in April, about a month after the list of the nominees was recommended to him by the National Judicial Council (NJC).

Of the 18 new appointees, one is from the South-east (Imo State). Two are from the North-central, four from the North-east, five from the North-west, four from the South-west and two from the South-south.

Alaigbo had argued in its suit that the South-east was marginalised in the appointment process. It therefore urged the court to order that the South-east be given three slots as the region’s fair share.

Delivering judgement in the suit, however, Inyang Ekwo ruled that the group lacked the locus standi (the legal right) to institute such suit.

Mr Ekwo noted that Alaigbo, in filing the suit, acted in breach of the provisions of the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020.

He explained that instituting such a suit is outside the scope of the group’s registration under CAMA.

“If the plaintiff is now telling this court that it is by virtue of its registration under section 833 (1) of CAMA that it is engaging in this suit, then its registration was a camouflage, and ought to be revoked,” the judge said.

Striking out the suit, Mr Ekwo said, “The plaintiff lacks the requisite locus standi (legal right) to institute this suit against the defendants.”

Judge gives advice

Mr Ekwo advised the organisation to desist from parading itself as a socio-cultural organisation. He said Alaigbo cannot obtain its registration as a foundation and turnaround to call itself a socio-cultural organisation.

“Go and face the business of setting up a fund for the objective of a foundation. Stop parading yourself as a socio-cultural organisation,” Mr Ekwo said this in his judgment on Friday.

“I therefore make an order striking out this action for lack of locus standi of this plaintiff (Alaigbo). This is the order of this court,” Mr Ekwo said.

Background

The incorporated trustees of Alaigbo Development Foundation had, through their lawyer, Max Ozoka, filed their originating summons marked FHC/ABJ/CS/347/21 on March 16.

The group sought a court order to compel the defendants to replace the three vacancies in the South-east slots by three new justices from the zone.

The plaintiff urged the court to, among others, declare the action of the defendants, “particularly the 1st, 2nd and 3rd, in allocating one slot only to the South-east zone in the ongoing exercise as “unjustifiable, unfair, inequitable and contrary to the true intendment of the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution.

Other prayers sought by the plaintiff included, “A declaration that the South East Zone is entitled to three new slots in the ongoing exercise of appointment of the justices of the Court of Appeal in direct replacement or filling of the vacancies in the bench of the Court of Appeal currently existing in the South East Zone which arose from the elevation, retirement and death of three justices of the Court from the Zone.

“An order of the Honourable Court restraining the defendants, especially the 1st 2nd and 3rd defendants from continuing the ongoing exercise of appointment of justices of the Court of Appeal unless and until the South-east Zone is accorded its rightful entitlement in the exercise.”

Objection to suit

Earlier, arguing its preliminary objection during the hearing of the suit, the NJC (1st respondent), represented by Paul Usoro, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, asked the court to decline jurisdiction in the matter on the grounds that the plaintiff lacked the locus standi to institute the case.

Mr Usoro told the court that the plaintiff was an Igbo socio-cultural organisation and that its aims and objectives did not include instituting cases of public interest.

On their part, counsel to the 2nd and 3rd respondents (Federal Judicial Service Commission and President, Court of Appeal) Yakubu Maikyau, also urged the court to refuse to entertain the matter on the grounds that Section 20 of the CAMA did not permit the group to embark on instituting such an action.

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