It would have been laughable, if not for the danger it portends for the harmonious coexistence of Nigeria, how almost every public official who finds himself or herself in hot waters as a result of their actions or inactions will instantaneously grab unto a made-up religious or ethnic rationale or clutch unto the bombastic timeless easy to adopt claim of “witch-hunt.” It was therefore not surprising that the former Acting Chief Judge of Kebbi State, Honourable Justice Elizabeth Asabe Karatu chose a similar path.
What is surprising is the speed with which the Honourable Judge could forget the meticulous process followed by the Kebbi State Executive, the Kebbi State Legislature as well as the National Judicial Council (NJC) in her appointment in acting capacity and in the consideration of her proposed confirmation. Perhaps the former Acting Chief Judge had forgotten the transparent manner in which the process played out or the insurmountable conundrum created by the circumstances caused by her own actions.
It is public record that, following the impending retirement of Honourable Justice Bala Ibrahim Mairiga on 30 October 2017, Honourable Justice Karatu was appointed as the Acting Chief Judge Kebbi State on 26 October 2017. The appointment was made pursuant to Section 271(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended. The Subsection provides that –
“If the office of the Chief Judge of a State is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then, until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the Governor shall appoint the most senior Judge of the High Court to perform those functions.“
The acting appointment of Justice Karatu under Section 271(4) of the Constitution lapsed on the 30th of January and was renewed for another three months by Governor Bagudu, without prompting, with effect from 31st January 2018; and for yet another three months.
Honourable Justice Karatu was first presented to the Kebbi State House of Assembly for confirmation as Chief Judge by the Governor of Kebbi State, Senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu on 2 June 2018 sequel to the recommendation of the NJC. She was invited to the House of Assembly and appeared for the confirmation hearing on 1 August 2018. Following which hearing, the House conveyed to the Governor their rejection of the appointment of Justice Karatu on the ground that there were alterations of dates observed on her Primary School Leaving Certificate, which she admitted.
It is equally public record that after the rejection of Justice Karatu by the House, Governor Bagudu actually wrote back to the House requesting for consideration of appeal for his intervention by the Judge, which request was refused by the House vide a letter dated 12 October 2018. The letter detailed the identified alterations to the Judge’s Primary School Leaving Certificate necessitating the earlier rejection. These are:
- Alteration of date of birth from 9 May 1952 to 9 May 1954;
- Alteration of date of issue of the Certificate from 12 January 1966 to 12 January 1967; and
- Alteration of the year of completion of primary school from 1966 to 1967.
In addition to the above alterations, the House also found that the Declaration of Age presented to the House by Justice Karatu contained a different date from the conflicting dates contained on the Primary School Leaving Certificate. The date of birth on the Declaration was 5 July 1954.
Furthermore, the former acting Chief Judge, in her 17 August 2018 letter of appeal to the Governor, forwarded another copy of the Primary School Leaving Certificate she purportedly obtained from the Government of “Northern Nigeria” as a Certified True Copy (CTC) of the earlier presented Certificate. The said CTC contains 6 August 2018 as the date of issue. Also, on the CTC, the date of birth of Justice Karatu was indicated as 9 May 1954 and the previously observed alteration of the year of completion of primary school from 1966 to 1967 had miraculously disappeared.
Justice Karatu is the one who presented all these documents. It is in her documents that three different dates of birth were ascribed to her: 9 May 1952, 9 May 1954 and 5 July 1954.
Going by the first date of birth on the Judge’s Primary School Leaving Certificate (9 May 1952), the Judge ought to have retired from the Bench of the Kebbi State Judiciary by 9 May 2017 pursuant to the provisions of Section 291(2) of the Constitution, which fixed 65 years as the compulsory retirement age for Judges other than those on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
Again, Governor Bagudu reached out to the NJC with the response of the House of Assembly. The response of the NJC was that Justice Karatu should be re-presented for confirmation by the House of Assembly, which guidance the Government followed albeit with no different result from the House. The House vide its letter to the Governor dated 28 March 2019 maintained its ground not to confirm Justice Karatu as the Chief Judge of Kebbi State.
The Governor communicated the response of the House to the NJC, whereafter the NJC constituted a 4-man committee to visit the State and seek a resolution to the impasse. The Committee was made up of Honourable Justice Ishaq Usman Bello, Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory as the Chairman with Honourable Justice Pascal Obinna Nnadi, Chief Judge Imo State; Honourable Justice Idris Abdullahi Haroon, Grand Khadi Kwara State; and Hajiya Rakiya Sarki Ibrahim, Member NJC as members.
The NJC Committee visited Kebbi State on 5 May 2019, during which visit the Committee interacted with the Governor, the former Acting Chief Judge and the Speaker of the House of Assembly, from whom the Committee established that the Kebbi State House of Assembly had never confirmed the appointment of Justice Karatu as Chief Judge of Kebbi State.
Following the visit of the NJC Committee, Governor Bagudu again wrote the State House of Assembly on 7 May 2019 requesting another review of the decision of the House. The response of the House dated 15 May 2019 was to reaffirm its earlier position of rejection of Justice Karatu.
Justice Karatu’s third acting appointment expired on 30 August 2018 necessitating another revert by the Kebbi State Government to the NJC for guidance on the resolution of the stalemate. In this instance, the NJC vide a letter dated 11 June 2019 approved the appointment of the next most senior Judge of the High Court to act in the capacity of Chief Judge of Kebbi State.
It is therefore interesting to see that the petition of the former Acting Chief Judge, as reported in the media, had conveniently omitted to mention any of the facts as uncovered by the Kebbi State House of Assembly resulting in her rejection. Rather, the learned jurist had resorted to the age-long “religious persecution”, “witch-hunt” emotional blackmail argument popularised by the malefactors.
It is also appalling that, in an attempt to garner public attention, the former acting Chief Judge had opted for the use of the name of the Vice President in the most mischievous and reckless manner. We know as a fact that no relation of the Vice President had ever had any matter, civil or criminal, before Justice Karatu or any other court in Kebbi State. Why a person who once occupied the most exalted position of State Judiciary and who should know the legal implication of such false claims would still resort to calumny is baffling.
As repulsive as this approach is, it is extremely and palpably poignant and will continue to be a “weapon” of choice for those without any viable explanation when caught with their hands in the cookie jar. It is of utmost importance that relevant authorities pay attention to the way and manner facts are misrepresented in the media and religion, a very sensitive and emotive subject to Nigerians, is insidiously being employed as a tool to cause disharmony among the peace-loving people of Kebbi State.
Mr Dakingari is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State.