NDU BARTH,Port Harcourt
Rivers State Governor Rt. Hon.ChibuikeAmaechi has blamed National Judicial Council (NJC) for the continued closure of courts in the State,urging practicing lawyers in the five branches of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) in the state to ask the National Judicial Council, NJC to reverse its decision on the recommendation and appointment of Justice Daisy Okocha as an administrative Judge in the State Judiciary.
The Governor said the swift reversal of Justice Okocha’s recommendation and appointment by the NJC would uphold the amendment of the High Court Law by the Rivers State House of Assembly which gives powers to the Chief Registrar to act as subsisting Acting Chief Judge of the state to assign cases to courts.
Amaechi stated this at the weekend during a meeting with lawyers from the five branches of the NBA in the state in Port Harcourt.
The five branches include; Port Harcourt, Okehi, Bori, Ahoada andIsiokpo.
He said, “If you are unable to find a workable solution to the Judiciary crisis, I want to suggest two things that you lawyers should do to rest the case. Firstly, you can stage a mass protest against NJC, and ask them to leave you alone. Secondly, you can send a delegation to the new Chief Justice of Nigeria to resolve this matter by inviting the Rivers State Government and the five branches of the NBA to a meeting. And the Rivers State Government is ready to be part of the meeting if the NJC is ready to act in accordance with the provisions of the law. This is public office with constitutionally provided statements on qualification for succession and provides no room for any person to use their membership of the exalted body to lend a hand to a relation or friend outside the clear provisions of the constitution. NJC is the body still holding the matter. Let the NJC retrieve its letter on the recommendation and appointment of Justice Daisy Okocha as an administrative Judge. “
The reason why we amended some section of the law was to allow the courts to be in session, and that can only take place where the Chief Registrar remains the subsisting Acting Chief Judge of the state to assign cases to courts, it is purely an administrative role. What bothers me is, where did the NJC derive its powers to appoint Justice DaisyOkocha as administrative Judge? Judiciary workers are afraid that if they disobey their employers, they will be dismissed for gross misconduct, that is why they are on strike to keep their employment safe,” Amaechi advised. He decried the hard times young lawyers are going through and warned those fanning the embers of discord to sheath their sword for the state Judiciary to move forward.
“The reason for which I opted to discuss with lawyers in this meeting was that I sympathize with them on what they are going through. I am particularly bothered about the young practicing lawyers that joined the NBA, not the rich lawyers who have chambers outside Port Harcourt and can always fend for themselves no matter the circumstances. What touched me most was the Ahoada branch, where a lawyer was asking for N10, 000 to assist his wife get medical treatment. I had thought about what the NJC did after the Rivers State Assembly amended the High Court Law which paved way for the Chief Registrar to act as subsisting Acting Chief Judge to assign cases to various courts. I heard some lawyers have gone to an Abuja High Court to compel the Rivers State Government to open the state Judiciary. This is wrong. I bother about you because it is my responsibility. This is because some of you here voted us to power and during this period of Judiciary crisis, some lawyers must have lost their parents while the siblings of some of you need money to pay school fees. That was why we asked the Rivers State Judiciary to be session,” Amaechi said.
He recalled salient points of the Federal High Court Judgement which he described as acceptable, agreeable and proper for the appointment of the Chief Judge of a state.
“The State Judicial Service Commission is in a better position to screen nominees for recommendation by the NJC for appointment as Chief Judge of a State since they have local knowledge of the candidates better than the NJC. The governor is not made a rubber stamp or robot to willy-nilly accept the NJC’s recommendation. He has a choice of outright rejection without taking it to the House of Assembly for debate.
Indeed, a nominee for appointment to the office of the Chief Judge of a state need not be a Judge; All that the constitution requires is that such nominee should be a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has so qualified for at least ten years,” Amaechi stated.