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The International Criminal Court has four principal organs: the Presidency which is currently being headed by Chile Eboe-Osuji, the Judicial Divisions, the Office of the Prosecutor, and the Registry. The President is the most senior judge, usually chosen by his or her peers in the Judicial Division, which handles the cases before the Court. The Office of the Prosecutor is headed by the Prosecutor who handles the investigation of crimes and the initiation of criminal proceedings before the Judicial Division. The Registry which is headed by the Registrar is charged with managing all the administrative functions of the ICC, including the headquarters, detention unit, and public defense office. The Office of the Prosecutor has opened 12 official investigations and is also conducting an additional nine preliminary examinations.
Since its inception, 45 individuals have been indicted in the ICC, including Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony, former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, and DR Congo Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba.
Member states of the ICC are expected to nominate their candidates out of which only six judges will be elected to fill one-third of the court’s 18 judicial seats. Nigeria which is a member state recently vetted a candidate with the express approval of President Muhammadu Buhari. Ishaq Usman Bello, who is the chief judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court was nominated by President Buhari to fill for Nigeria at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
This nomination has gathered a lot of controversies regarding the eligibility and the purpose behind the nomination of Ishaq Usman Bello. Many have argued that he is indeed not the most qualified for the position as there are many more Nigerian legal luminaries who are better qualified for the position that he is.
Some of the criteria to becoming a judge at the International Criminal Court include:
- Highly qualified: the candidate excels in terms of the experience and knowledge about the Court and its jurisprudence; it is very likely that he/she would be able to make an important contribution to the work of the Court.
- Qualified: the candidate has some relevant experience and knowledge about the Court; he/she could contribute to the work of the Court.
- Only formally qualified: the candidate meets the requirements set out in the Rome Statute for election as a judge, but it is uncertain if the candidate could make a noteworthy contribution to the work of the Court.
- Not qualified: the candidate does not meet the formal requirements set out in the Rome Statute.
An independent legal panel that was in charge of scrutinising the nominees described Nigeria’s candidate, Mr. Ishaq Usman Bello, as having ‘a very limited knowledge’ of the workings of the International Criminal Court (ICC), hence is only formally qualified for appointment as a judge of the Court. The Committee noted that, based on his answers to questions particularly regarding participation by victims and the functions of the Pre-Trial Chamber (but also other areas), the candidate appeared notably to have very limited knowledge of the Rome Statute, the practices, and procedures of the Court and its jurisprudence.
‘Based on both his professional experience as well as his answers during the interview, and bearing in mind particularly his lack of detailed knowledge of the workings of the Court, the Committee concluded that the candidate was only formally qualified for appointment as judge of the International Criminal Court.’
Ishaq Usman Bello has been at the High Court in Abuja for more than two decades, but it was his 2017 controversial ruling in the 2005 extra-judicial murder of an auto spare parts trader that shut him into national infamy. The FCT Chief Judge had sentenced two of the six accused police officers accused in the murder to death, while three others, including police chief Danjuma Ibrahim, who reportedly ordered officers to open fire on the unarmed citizens, were controversially discharged and acquitted.
The citizens, Ekene Mgbe, Ifeanyi Ozor, Chinedu Meniru, Paulinus Ogbonna, Anthony Nwokike, and Augustina Arebu were killed on June 8, 2005. They were understood to be returning from a night club when they were stopped at a police checkpoint. After killing them, the police officers tagged them as members of an armed robbery gang who had purportedly ‘opened fire on the officers’ when stopped. The police also planted weapons on the victims to cast them in public as armed rogues. No one believed their claim.
A judicial panel of inquiry set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo rubbished the claim and recommended the trial of the six officers. After twelve years, Mr Ishaq Usman Bello finally ruled on the case. He convicted Ezekiel Acheneje and Emmanuel Baba, both of police rank-and-file. However, the controversial judge acquitted Mr Ibrahim Danjuma and two other officers for want of evidence, ignoring confessional statements of the convicted officers that they shot the traders based on a superior directive from Mr. Ibrahim.
Mr. Danjuma’s acquittal was widely condemned by Nigerians. But he was nonetheless promoted as an assistant inspector-general of police following the court case. Despite a concerted plea from the victims’ families, who have lived in agony since the 2005 tragedy, President Buhari’s Attorney-General Abubakar Malami also declined to appeal the ruling, leaving Mr. Ibrahim Danjuma to walk free.
Mr Ishaq Usman Bello also drew criticism last year when he said families of serving judges could replace them on the bench, a decision critics said effectively elevated nepotism into a state policy.
This appointment has only shown how lopsided the Buhari-led Government is with appointments. Just like how it was during the military era, nepotism has taken a more sinister dimension in this current Nigerian Government. There are many other appointments such as these in the Government from Security chiefs, ministerial appointments to international appointments. The removal and trial of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen further showed how dedicated the Government is to nepotism and biased judgements. There are other better lawyers all over Nigeria and in the diaspora, some of whom include Fabian Ajogwu, Chimezie Ikeazor, and even the renowned female legal luminaries Ezinwa Okoroafor and Nwabueze Nwokolo and the current president of the International Criminal Court, Chile Eboe-Osuji, who have made tremenodus legal exploits in Nigeria and in diaspora.
Mr Ishaq Usman Bello may be a good lawyer, but he is by no means qualified for a very vital role as being a judge for the International Criminal Court. With his tainted legal records he should have been scrutinised out and replaced by a more capable individual. The promotion of nepotism and corruption on an international scale is one venture President Muhammadu Buhari would have to curb in his Government as the consequent effects for celebrating incompetency and mediocrity may cause lasting damage to the Government and the country at large.
AFRICA DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK