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CJN Ariwoola nominates daughter, Victoria Oluwakemi for FCT High Court judge

Chief Justice of Nigeria Olukayode Ariwoola is scheming to install his daughter as a judge on the Federal Capital Territory High Court in Abuja, the country’s seat of power, Peoples Gazette learnt through documents and judiciary sources familiar with the process.

Oluwakemi Victoria Ariwoola is the latest beneficiary of an active determination of the nation’s most-senior jurist to enroot the court system with family members and loyalists before his mandatory retirement in August 2024. Mr Ariwoola already successfully elevated his son Kayode Ariwoola Jnr as a federal judge and younger brother Adebayo Ariwoola as the auditor of the National Judicial Council.

His nephew Lateef Ganiyu was recently promoted to appeals court, as well as other relatives now heading diverse positions across the judiciary bureaucracy, according to a recent observation by rights expert Chidi Odinkalu, who has been tracking nepotism as a growing issue in the judiciary.

Both the chief justice and a spokesman for the Supreme Court sidestepped clarifications sought by The Gazette on the matter over the weekend. The chief justice, who assumed office in 2022, has elicited little concern about the perception of the judiciary by Nigerians and even admonished judges in October to remain indignant amid widespread agitation for the independence of the bench.

Mr Ariwoola, 69, began lobbying to seat his daughter on the bench after he was notified in a January 18, 2024, letter from Husseini Baba-Yusuf, the chief judge of the FCT High Court, that 12 new positions have opened up on the court. Mr Baba-Yusuf urged Mr Ariwoola, Attorney-General Lateef Fagbemi and the Nigerian Bar Association president, Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, to send candidates drawn from a dozen states.

“In line with the National Judicial Council Guidelines and Procedural Rules for Appointment of Judicial Officers to Superior Courts, I hereby invite your lordships, the honourable attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice and the president of the Nigerian Bar Association to kindly nominate suitably qualified persons from the aforementioned states for appointment to the Federal Capital Territory High Court,” Mr Baba-Yusuf said, adding that they should forward their candidates with résumés to his chambers latest by January 19, 2024.

Mr Baba-Yusuf listed the states due to feed candidates to the court as Bauchi, Bayelsa, Enugu, Imo, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Taraba and Zamfara.

But The Gazette’s checks showed Oyo already has two judges on the FCT High Court, Mohammed Alhaji Madugu and Ajoke Adepoju from Saki and Ibadan South-West LGAs, respectively. The court has 70 judges system-wide and they are selected across the 36 states and FCT. Some states have two or three judges, while some, like Ebonyi have none.

Officials said Ebonyi should’ve been among the 12 states to fill vacancies as it currently has no position on the court, but another seat was opened for Oyo to allow Mr Ariwoola fill it with his daughter, which would give Oyo three slots at the expense of states without a single slot.

“The CJN personally asked the FCT CJ to do this exercise to employ his daughter-in-law before his retirement in August,” a judiciary source said. “When is he going to realise that the Nigerian judiciary is not his personal asset?”

Judiciary workers also took issues with Mrs Ariwoola’s nomination because she is a junior magistrate with only three years’ experience, having been appointed first in 2020. She’s currently a grade two at Wuse Zone 2.

Mr Baba-Yusuf did not return a request seeking comments, but a court official who sought anonymity said the senior judge would try to close ranks with agrieved colleagues over the matter in order to avoid yet another revoid, referring to The Gazette’s September 2023 story in which colleagues accused Mr Baba-Yusuf of corruption. He later denied the allegations.

“The chief judge has been trying to avoid any controversy for now,” the official said under anonymity Sunday night. “His hands may be tied right now with the nomination of the chief justice’s daughter, but he might call his colleagues to a meeting and let them see things from his own point of view.”

Nonetheless, the official feared even if Mr Baba-Yusuf would consider dropping Ms Ariwoola to ward off internal revolt, a positive outcome would be difficult because of the chief justice, who defied public uproar over his son, junior brother and others he pushed into top positions in the judiciary. A lawyer recently made public his threat to sue the chief justice for disregarding obvious conflicts.

People’s Gazette

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