Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory High Court Husseini Baba-Yusuf is on the brink of seating his daughter as one of the newest judges in the system, Peoples Gazette found, meshing contentiously with Chief Justice Kayode Ariwoola and other members of the legal elite who have turned the judiciary into premium job racket for family members.
As with the case of Oluwakemi Victoria Ariwoola, the nomination of Maryam Baba-Yusuf also necessarily involved stunting the career progression of other magistrates from everyday households in at least four states, our findings showed. It was unclear why Mr Baba-Yusuf prioritised his daughter as the third judge from Kogi on the FCT High Court when Abia, Imo, Bayelsa and Ebonyi each has no single judge on the court and the Nigerian federal character policy codified in Chapter Two of the Constitution required staffing the 70-person bench equitably among citizens from the 36 states and the capital Abuja.
Mr Baba-Yusuf has also accepted Munira Ibrahim Tanko, a junior magistrate and daughter of erstwhile Chief Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, as a candidate from Bauchi, a state that already has Babangida Hasan on the court. Similarly, Kogi already has Eleojo Enenche and the chief judge himself, while Oyo, which Oluwakemi Ariwoola represents, has Mohammed Alhaji Madugu and Ajoke Adepoju. His decision, if allowed to stand, would give Kogi and Oyo three judges each, while Bauchi would have two.
Rather than prioritise ethnic and geopolitical balance, Mr Yusuf-Baba instead appeared bent on foisting a lopsided goal of allocating vacant seats to rookie officers from influential families, even while passing over senior magistrates from states not already represented on the court. His conduct has already set off ructions among judges and clerks, including those who were hitherto gruntled by his leadership of the court.
Documents seen by The Gazette showed Mrs Baba-Yusuf would soon be sent to the judicial council for vetting — and subsequently to the Senate for confirmation — alongside Oluwakemi Ariwoola, who became a magistrate in 2020 and posted to Wuse Zone 2, and Munira Ibrahim Tanko, who has served as a magistrate in Life Camp since 2015. He said he was targeting a deadline of February 19 when he formally informed the National Judicial Council of the nomination process in a January 18, 2024, letter.
Of the 12 nominees being considered to fill 12 vacant positions on the court, only those three women have been confirmed to be on a finalised list prepared by Mr Baba-Yusuf’s office. Family or political affiliation of the remaining nine nominees could immediately be reported. Already have multiple judges, like Rivers (three), Lagos (three), Kwara (two), and Enugu (two) also have at least one nominee each in the latest list.
A spokesman for the court declined comments on Wednesday afternoon, saying Mr Baba-Yusuf would only comment after the process has been finalised. But the chief judge’s action so far has already drawn attention, with a letter from a civic group warning that his action could undermine the Nigerian Constitution.
“The underlying philosophy of the FCC [Federal Character Commission] principle is to provide equality of access in public service representations to curb dominance by one or few sections of the country and also to implement and enforce fairness and equity in distributing public posts and socio-economic goods among Nigeria’s various tiers of government,” Abdullahi Ishiaku, complaints director of International Human Rights Commission in Yobe, said in a letter this week to Mr Ariwoola and copied to President Bola Tinubu, the Nigerian, the attorney-general’s office among others.
“I was among those who supported the chief judge after his appointment in 2021, and I told him how much I would like to see him succeed,” a judicial officer said under anonymity. “But I am no longer sure where I stand with all these revelations about him.”
The official said Mr Baba-Yusuf’s “puzzling promotion pattern”, if unchecked, would further cost him support in the judiciary. In September, it was also reported how Mr Baba-Yusuf was accused of graft by his colleagues on the bench, including financial mismanagement and outright theft of travel and other allowances.
According to the court’s website, at least seven magistrates from the four unrepresented states are in currently under the FCT High Court. Chioma Amanwachi from Afikpo, Ebonyi, appointed in December 2020; Chituruka Ngozi Abah from Arochuckwu, Abia, appointed in December 2020; Anthony Ngozi Ekwoaba from Iheduru, Imo, appointed in December 2020; Chiemena Nonye-Okoronkwo from Owerri Municipal, Imo, appointed in December 2020; Elizabeth Jones-Wonni from Sagbama, Bayelsa, appointed in 2004; Abhiranyam Linda Ibegu from Ogbia, Bayelsa, appointed in March 2015; and Ebiwari E. Damini from Southern Ijaw, Bayelsa, appointed in March 2015.
The magistrates declined comments about whether or not they would be challenging Mr Baba-Yusuf’s resolve to overleap their states in the last round of judicial appointments,