The approval last week of the appointment of Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem as the Acting President of the Court of Appeal by President Muhammadu Buhari is quite significant, having been the second female in a row to head the appellate court. Besides, her appointment, which is for an initial period of three months, with effect from March 6, 2020, when the incumbent President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, will statutorily retire from service, also marks a new dawn for the appellate court in particular and the nation’s judiciary in general.
In a statement, Buhari’s media aide, Garba Shehu, said, “Justice Mensem, who is the next most senior judge of the Court of Appeal, will be acting pending when a substantive appointment to the position of the president of the Court of Appeal may be made by President Buhari subject to the confirmation of the Senate. The president’s approval of the appointment of Justice Mensem, followed the recommendation of the Chief Justice of Nigeria in line with the provisions of Section 238(4) & (5) of the 1999 Constitution as amended”.
Dongban-Mensem, who has since been sworn in, succeeded Mrs Bulkachuwa, who was appointed Acting President, Court of Appeal in 2012 and substantive president of the court in April 2014. Bulkachuwa bowed out of the Bench last Thursday as she clocked the statutory retirement age of 70 years for Justices of Appeal Court.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, who administered the oath in Abuja on Justice Dongban-Mensem as Acting President of the Court Appeal, described Dongban-Mensem as “a seasoned judicial officer in the system.” He urged her to carry her colleagues along through consultations in order to succeed as president of the appellate court. Muhammad also urged the new acting president to form the habit of visiting the various divisions of the court so as to have firsthand knowledge of the challenges there.
“As a seasoned judicial officer in the system right from day one after graduation, I don’t know what to tell you. You know your work very well and you have been doing your job satisfactorily well. It is as a result of this hard work and general character and attitude that had enticed both the Court of Appeal and the National Judicial Council to uplift you to be the Acting President of the Court of Appeal.
“I am pretty sure as I know you very well, except you have changed which I have not noticed. I will, therefore, urge you to continue with your charisma, attitude and ability to carry out the task and assignment given to you. The whole world has testified that you can do it. The testimony that comes from the generality of the public and colleagues and those of us that you met. Please continue to bear that testimony,” the CJN said.
Before her appointment, Justice Dongban-Mensem was the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division. She is a Life Member of Body of Benchers, a body that is responsible for the training and discipline of all lawyers in Nigeria. A graduate of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, she is an authority in Criminal and Civil Procedure Law, Taxation and International Public Finance, Public International Law, Legislative Drafting, Constitutional and Administrative Law and International Commercial Transactions.
Justice Mensem was Registrar of Plateau State High Court in 1979 and magistrate of various grades up to chief magistrate between 1981 and 1990. She was visiting lecturer on Press Law at the Catholic Media Centre, Kaduna from 1988-1992 and part-time lecturer at the University of Jos between 1989 and 1997. From 1990-1993 Mensem served as deputy chief registrar, Superior Courts and Protocol Affairs and was appointed judge, High Court of Justice, Plateau Judiciary from 1993-1996. On transfer from the former, Dongban-Mensem became the Judge, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Judiciary from 1997-2003.
Apart from being on several panels of investigation in the Plateau State Judiciary, she has performed numerous ad-hoc duties in the capacity of Secretary, Plateau State Law Report Committee, Secretary/Legal Adviser, Ad-hoc Committee on Widowhood Practices in Plateau State all in 1991 and a Pioneer Board Member/Legal Adviser, Plateau State Commission for Women from1991-1992, among several others. She was also an Advisory Committee Member for FCT Judiciary on the National Centre for State Courts International Programs Division from 2001-2002 and was Acting Presiding Justice of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal between November and December 2009.
Justice Dongban-Mensem has been described as one of the hardest working Nigerian judicial officers. As at December 2019, she had over 150 lead and 100 contributory judgments, respectively. She has always led notable jurists to decide high profile and very interesting cases. These cover electoral, commercial, civil and criminal matters on appeal from the lower courts and court-marshal decisions.
Blueprint congratulates Justice Dongban-Mensem for being found worthy to preside over (in an acting capacity) the sacred temple of justice at the appellate level, especially at a time when the nation is at a crossroads with many of her high profile public officers, including judges, highly compromised, corrupt and inept. It is our conviction that she will bring her wealth of experience to bear in the discharge of duties in order to earn the confidence of Mr President and a subsequent substantive appointment.