Thursday, 18 April, 2024

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Court rejects suit seeking to void Imo Chief Judge’s appointment


A Federal High Court in Abuja has struck out a suit challenging the appointment of Justice Ijeoma Agugua as the Chief Judge of Imo State.

Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a judgment on Friday, held that the plaintiff failed to establish his right to approach the court on the issue, and concluded that the plaintiff lacked locus standi to file the suit.

The judgment was in a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/840/2020 filed by Honourable Justine Brown Amadi, who claimed to be a tax payer in Imo State.

Defendants in the suit were the National Judicial Council (NJC), Imo State Judicial Service Commission (ISJSC), Imo Governor, the Attorney General, the House of Assembly and Justice Agugua.

At the assumption of office of Governor Hope Uzodinma and upon a petition by the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN), the state recalled the list of judges earlier submitted to the NJC by the Emeka Ihedioha-led government, which excluded the most senior judge, Justice Agugua (who was then the acting Chief Judge).

At the submission of a new list, which included Justice Agugua, Amadi challenged the state’s decision and petitioned the NJC, subsequent upon which he sued.

He argued among others, that NJC’s decision to proceed with the process of appointing a Chief Judge for Imo State, without first dealing with his petition, amounted to a violation of his right to fair hearing.

Justice Ekwo, in the judgment on Friday, held that although Amadi claimed to be a tax payer in Imo State, he failed to prove such claim with evidence and establish his interest that put him above all other tax payers in the state to confer on him the right to challenge the appointment of a Chief Judge for the state.

The judge added that his being a tax payer was not sufficient to bestow on the plaintiff the right to dictate to the NJC who should be appointed as a Chief Judge in Imo State.

“Where a person claim he is a tax payer, mere saying so in an affidavit is not sufficient, it must be substantiated with evidence from the revenue service.

“When a plaintiff founds his locus standi on being a tax payer and did not tender evidence of such, it means he has not established his assertion.

“The common thread that runs through all judicial precedents on the issue of interest is that the interest of a plaintiff must be real and tangible in law. It must be cut and dry, and without least equivocation.

“It must not be a caricature of an interest or a make believe interest; not one of personal or selfish aggrandisement, but one, which is clearly unequivocally donated to the plaintiff in the light of the facts of the case and the law.

“How does being a tax payer gives the plaintiff a special interest or any legal interest or interest above any other person within the legal profession or the legal community or the general public at large in Imo State, thereby obliging him to superintend the process of appointment of any person as a Chief Judge in Imo State,” the judge asked.

He also wondered how the e appointment of Justice Agugua by the NJC as the Chief Judge of Imo State put the civil rights and obligation of the plaintiff in danger to warrant the court to hold that he has established sufficient legal interest in seeking redress in court.

The judge added that there is no law that says NJC must hear and act on every petition sent to it, but rather, it is at liberty to vet the petitions it receives and give attention to the one it considers to be necessary.

“Hearing and considering of petitions are at the discretion of the first defendant. Where the first defendant refuses to try a petition it receives, it has exercised its discretion on that petition and that ends it.

*It must be stated for the avoidance of doubt that the substratum of this case is not about the breach of right of fair hearing of the plaintiff by the first defendant, but the objection and possible frustration of the appointment of the..as a Chief Judge of Imo State.

“The petition was a mere contrivance to box the first defendant to a hapless corner by the plaintiff. Let me state clearly that the first defendant is not bound by the petition of the plaintiff and therefore not bound to hear the plaintiff on it.

“In my opinion, the entire case smacks of utter malice and mischief on the part of the plaintiff. It is an adventure without a course.

“On the whole, I am unable to find any peculiar legal right or interest of the plaintiff about who is appointed the Chief Judge in Imo State by the first defendant. It does not lie on the plaintiff to determine who is appointed as the Chief Judge of Imo State or how the institution seized with the function of making such appointment should go about it.

“The issue of locus standi would be stressed beyond common sense where an individual would be allowed to hold a statutory process to ransom on account of an interest or even a right that cannot be credibly established.

“Therefore the plaintiff cannot and ought not to be allowed to interfere in the business of the first defendant. In conclusion, the issue of locus standi is resolved against the plaintiff,” Justice Ekwo said.

Credit: The Nation

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