There is a plan to force a Chief Justice on Rivers State, Governor Rotimi Amaechi alleged yesterday. He said the National Judicial Council (NJC) is behind the crisis in the state’s judiciary, adding that it plans to force Justice Daisy Okocha on the people as the Chief Judge.
The plot, said Amaechi, is to impeach him.
The governor signed into law the bill for the amendment of the Rivers State High Court Law 2001 passed by the House of Assembly.
The passage of the bill into law was done through voice vote by 17 members of the House at the plenary, presided over by Deputy Speaker Leyii Kwanee.
With Amaechi’s assent to the amendment law, the Chief Registrar of the Rivers High Court can now assign cases to judges and carry out other administrative duties, in the absence of an Acting or Substantive Chief Judge.
The police sealed off the Rivers High Court Complex on Station Road in Port Harcourt, the state capital. Thousands of Amaechi’s supporters protested the ugly development.
As early as 6 am, Amaechi’s supporters launched a massive street protest over what they described as the “double standard and impunity” of the NJC, with members of the National and Rivers Assemblies, government officials and other eminent personalities involved.
The protesters were angered that Justice Okocha broke into the court complex on Tuesday, in spite of the ongoing indefinite strike by members of the Judiciary Staff Union on Nigeria (JUSUN), Rivers chapter, on the crisis in the state’s judiciary. Besides, the NJC-imposed “Administrative Chief Judge” (Justice Okocha) held a meeting with some Rivers judges.
Fully-armed and stern-looking policemen, however, prevented the protesters from moving close to the main gate of the high court complex, which was barricaded with two Toyota Hilux vans.
The leader of the police team, Clement Okonkwo, politely told the protesters that they were at the gate to ensure peace and to prevent the breakdown of law and order.
Daisy is the immediate elder sister of a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), O.C.J. Okocha (SAN), who is also a member of the NJC.
Amaechi, who spoke through the Chief of Staff, Government House, Chief Tony Okocha, who doubles as his Political Aiser, expressed disappointment on the attitude of the members of the NJC, who were accused of taking sides.
Okocha said: “The confusion in Rivers State Judiciary is caused by the NJC and the powers that be (the Federal Government of Nigeriaresident Goodluck Jonathan’s administration). NJC is a body of eminent lawyers and judgesjustices, with the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) as its Chairman. The CJN knows better. This one is trite in law. It is not subject to interpretation. Whose interest are members of the NJC serving?
“We also heard that their intention is to concoct a scenario where six Rivers House of Assembly members will claim to have sat and impeached Governor Amaechi and hand over a paper to her (Justice Daisy Okocha) to set up a kangaroo panel and on the same day, a decision is reached that Governor Amaechi has been impeached, just to cause confusion and crisis in Rivers State.
“The crisis in the Rivers State Judiciary is indeed uncalled for. The law is clear. The person who has the powers to appoint the Chief Judge is certainly the Governor of Rivers State. It is not about the Governor of Rivers State it is about the law.
“The Rivers State Governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has appointed a Chief Judge (Justice Peter Agumagu), but the NJC is interfering. To the extent that the person who was appointed was suspended by the NJC and the matter is in court.
“We heard that NJC is appointing an Administrative Chief Judge (Justice Daisy Okocha), that is not known to the law. The powers to appoint, no matter the nomenclature it is given, do not reside with the NJC. You can see the entire confusion.
“To make matters worse, we heard that the woman purportedly appointed by the NJC as Administrative Chief Judge, went to the Rivers State High Court, Port Harcourt yesterday (Tuesday) and met with some judges. As a lawyer and a judge, she knows that it is a crime in the Nigerian law that you do not break and enter, for whatever it is worth.
“That is why you saw millions of Rivers people, who spontaneously came out to say there are no two governors in Rivers State. The Rivers State Governor must be allowed to perform his functions, part of which he has done.”
The NGF chairman also stated that the way out of the Rivers judiciary crisis would be for the people to obey the law, since the Constitution binds all the citizens together.
The governor said: “Let the Constitution be obeyed. We are not asking for any other favour.
“The members of the Rivers State House of Assembly this (yesterday) morning organised a public hearing on amendment to the law. There seems to be a lacuna and the law does not allow vacuum. The lawmakers observed that litigants are suffering and people can no longer access the courts. So, the best they intend to do is to amend the law.
“It appears there is a little difficulty in the appointment of Chief Judge and the lawmakers want to give the powers to the Chief Registrar.”
The NJC last week announced Justice Okocha as the Administrative CJ of the state.
The Judge of State High Court reportedly assumed office on Tuesday, after the CJ’s office was allegedly broken into with the backing by heavily-armed security operatives.
The youths, protesting her appointment, came in over 100 buses. They gathered at the main gate of the High Court where they moved to register their concern at the Government House.
They were received at the Government House gate by Rivers National Assembly members and the state chairman of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), Oji Ngofa.
Addressing the protesters on behalf of the national lawmakers, Senator Abe condemned the NJC for appointing Okocha the Acting CJ.
Abe reiterated that the appointment of state CJ is the constitutional right of the governor. He alleged that the five anti- Amaechi lawmakers: Evans Bipi (OguBolo), Kelechi Nwogu(Omuma), Martin Amaewhule(ObioAkpor 1), victor Ihunwo (Port Harcourt 3), and Micheal Chinda (ObioAkpor 2), were making frantic efforts to impose Justice Okocha on the state to clear their way towards Amaechi’s impeachment. He vowed that the people would not allow that to happen.
Ngofa said the state would not relinquish her right to appoint the CJ to any group or body. He warned those he called “Abuja Politicians” against dragging the Judiciary into politics.
House passes Judiciary Bill
Members of the Rivers House of Assembly Committee on Judiciary, which is chaired by the representative of Etche Constituency 2, Mr. Golden Chioma, yesterday held a public hearing in Port Harcourt on the state High Court Amendment Law 2014.
The Bill was for a law to amend the Rivers High Court Law of 2001 and other connected matters, especially Section 40, which would be amended by adding a new Sub-Section 2.
The Section 40 (2), according to Chioma, is to read: “Where the Office of the Chief Judge is vacant and it is impracticable to appoint an Acting Chief Judge or a Chief Judge, the Chief Registrar shall assign cases to any judge and perform other administrative duties, until an Acting Chief Judge or a Chief Judge is appointed.”
Six memoranda were received. They include one from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Rivers chapter, without any representative at the public hearing.
The Bill may be cited as the “Rivers State High Court (Amendment) Bill No. 1 of 2014”.
Opening the public hearing, the Deputy Speaker of the Rivers House of Assembly, Leyii Kwanee, said members of the 7th Assembly could not be intimidated or harassed from performing their constutional duties, especially of making law, stressing that the gathering would backed the resolution of the crisis in the Rivers judiciary.
The representative of the Rivers Southeast Senatorial District, Magnus Ngei Abe, who is also a lawyer, said it was in order for the Chief Registrar to be assigning cases and performing other administrative duties, in the absence of an acting or substantive chief judge.
This was also corroborated by Senator Wilson Ake of Rivers West Senatorial District.
The representative of AndoniOpobo-Nkoro Constituency in the House of Representatives, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, said the interests of Rivers people must be protected at all times, stressing that the administration of justice must not be obstructed.
Peterside also noted that there was an intent to create mischief by an institution not allowed by law (NJC) to do certain things, insisting that the right things must be done in line with the constitution.
Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Worgu Boms described the public hearing and amendment as steps in the right direction. He condemned the partisanship of the members of the NJC.
The leader of the pro-Amaechi Save Rivers Movement, Igo Aguma, noted that Nigeria’s democracy was evolving, stressing that what was going on in the state was healthy for better democratic culture.
A litigant from Emohua Local Government Area of the state, Chief Christian Chukwu, called for urgent amendment of the high court law to end to the people’s suffering.
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SOURCE: Nigeria – The Nation