While the swearing-in ceremony of Justice Pindiga was going on in the Executive Chamber of the Gombe Government House after the expiration of Justice Beatrice Iliya’s three months in acting capacity, the Gombe State chapter of the the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), were at the entrance of the Government House, protesting the non confirmation of Justice Iliya.
After the swearing-in, Governor Inuwa said the swearing-in followed the expiration of the constitutional three months acting period of Justice Beatrice Iliya.
He then thanked the former Acting Chief Judge for her meritorious and active selfless service and also congratulated Justice Pindiga, who he said was the next most senior Judge in the High Court of Justice in Gombe State.
But reacting to the development, FIDA stood with their protest placards bearing slogans decrying injustice and victimization of women and adding that the process was shrouded in mystery as FIDA members who are also stakeholders were not aware of the development.
Briefing Journalists, the FIDA chairperson in Gombe, Mrs. Elizabeth Jalo Okotie said the Governor’s action was against the constitutional provision of law because Justice Beatrice remains the most senior Judge in Gombe State.
According to her, an acting Chief Judge can only be removed on the grounds of incompetence alone, adding that the swearing-in of Justice Pindiga was an act of discrimination against women because Beatrice was still competent and the most senior Judge at the moment.
Quoting from section 271 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria, subsection four, she said, “it provides that the Governor can only swear in a CJ if the seat is vacant or the incumbent cannot be able to perform”.
She said, ” There is no reason whatsoever to swear in another CJ, when an incumbent CJ is there and there is no allegation that she has not been able to perform”.
She added that “Rule 26 subsection two of our rules of professional ethics provides that there is seniority at the bar, even one hour is very important. So if a number one CJ is there, there is no reason why somebody can go against the rule and bring in somebody from the back and impose on top of the sitting CJ”.
She had earlier stressed that “We are here this afternoon to register our protest against a flagrant disobedience of the constitution and the rules of our professional ethics”.
But reacting differently, the Gombe State Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Haruna Yelma who directed Journalists to his Vice, Abdullahi Abubakar Kumo, said the Governor’s action was constitutional bearing in mind that, “Whenever the office is vacant, the office cannot be left without somebody to man the affairs of the office. So, the constitution makes provision for an acting to be given to the most senior Judge in the acting capacity for not more than three months, subject to confirmation”.
He said, ” Once you are not confirmed as the substantive CJ, there is no provision for renewal in the acting capacity. The next person or any other person the Governor chooses can be given the office to act in that capacity until a substantive one is appointed to fill the gap”.
Asked if Justice Pindiga is later confirmed as the substantive CJ, whether Justice Beatrice will resign since Pindiga is her junior in the ranking of their professional ethics, Barrister Kumo said, “you wait until then, I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. What the Governor did was constitutional and in tandem with the law”.
Feelers also have it that the Governor’s action is also said to be raising some dust from the Southern part of the State popularly called Tangale/Waja, where Justice Beatrice hails from.