8th November, 2014
Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcourt
Attempt by the leadership of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and Governor Chibuike Amaechi to arrive at a workable solution to the lingering crisis in the state judiciary at a meeting held at Dr Obi Wali Civic centre Port Harcourt, yesterday ended in a deadlock.
There was an earlier meeting held with the executives of the five branches in the Government House, when the governor requested that an enlarged meeting of all Lawyers plying their trade in the state in attendance be convened in to discuss how resolve the logjam so the courts that have been under lock for about seven months can reopen.
Governor Amaechi, who recalled the genesis of the crisis and attempt by his administration to find a lasting solution to the judiciary crisis over who is supposed to be the Chief Judge of the State between, Justice Daisy Okocha and Justice Peter Agamugu, stated that he was not the cause of the closure of the courts, that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) was responsible.
The governor lashed at the faction of lawyers staging a protest in the state at the heat of the crisis for the confusion over the appointment of a state chief judge, and said they should have carried their protest to the Chief Justice of the Nigeria, CJN and the National Judicial Council NJC.
Governor Amaechi explained to lawyers in attendance that the state chief judge crisis was about illegality, where the ambition of selfish politicians wanted to override the interest of Rivers people.
He stated categorically that he had no problem with one of the contenders of the position of chief judge, Justice Daisy Okocha, neither had he special interest in Justice Peter Agumagu, but had acted in accordance with the law and constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.
“It is not about Justice Daisy Okocha or is it about Justice P.N.C Agumagu. The point I want to make is keep to the law of 10 years of practice”.
Amaechi said that one of the steps he took towards resolving the crisis was requesting the state House of Assembly to amend the state High Court Law, to enable the lawyers continue with their practice where the most senior Registrar assigns cases in absence of a substantive Chief Judge.
“I thought of the consequences of what NJC was doing and I agreed with the Attorney-General to request the Rivers State House of Assembly to amend the the High Court Law to empower the Chief Registrar to assign cases, so that you (lawyers) can do your work; while the politicians continue to fight who will be the chief judge or not. Was that decision wrong?” He asked them.
In response to suggestions and questions from the lawyers, who urged that the court should return to status quo, the governor replied that the status quo was with the CJN.
“If you ask me, I will suggest there should be a protest to the NJC to say, NJC, leave us alone. If you do that, the next step is to send a delegation to the CJN then I believe there would be a solution.
“Ask the CJN to comply with the law. I, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, will comply with the law. I am not the one holding the status quo; the NJC holds the status quo. The ball is in your court,” he told them.
Amaechi lashed at NBA: “The country has changed. Before, the NBA was pragmatic; where did the CJN have the right to appoint an administrative judge? But, you did nothing”.
Also, there were appeals from some lawyers, that the governor should recommend the elevation of Okocha and Agumagu, so that a neutral lawyer could be appointed as chief judge.
At the end of the meeting, the NBA bared its mind through its spokesman, Angus Chukwuka, who expressed disappointment and dissatisfaction with the outcome of the meeting, saying that their concern is that the judiciary should function with the courts thrown open for normal judicial functions irrespective of who becomes the chief judge.
It is important to note that the peak of the crisis over who is supposed to be the chief judge has forced Rivers branch of Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, to embark on an indefinite strike until its members get a clear picture of whose directives they should obey, the NJC or state government that is their employer through the Rivers State Judicial Service Commission.