— Says No Law Requires Seniority As A Criterion In Appointment
— Says 2014 Rivers Judiciary Saga Different From Current Scenario
— As FIDA, Concerned Lawyers In Rivers State Kick Over Wike’s Alleged Plan To Impose CJ
A group of lawyers under the banner of ‘Constitutional and Human Rights lawyers forum’, has faulted claims by some persons that, the National Judicial Council, and the Rivers State Government, jointly frustrated the age-long tradition of appointing the most senior Judge as the Chief Judge of the state.
In an eleven-paragraph press release signed by fifteen  of such lawyers, Precious U. Dike, S. O. Eli, Charles Mbaba, Daminabo Davies, Y.I. Nulog, Chris Okparaolu, P.S. Ukadilonu, Endurance Okanezi, Charles Uchegbu, A. Victory (Miss), Golden Elikor, Edwin Woka, J. Akubo, C.A. Alfred (Mrs.), Merit Gogo (Mrs.), and made available to ASKLEGALPALACE, the group noted that there is no law prohibiting the Governor of a state from appointing any Judge as the Chief Judge of that State, in so far as such a Judicial officer has been recommended to the Governor by the NJC.
The forum noted that whilst the qualification for a person to assume the office of the ‘Acting Chief Judge’, largely borders on seniority, that of the [substantive] Chief Judge is not by law strictly rooted in seniority, but by the recommendation of the NJC.
“We make bold to state without any fear of contradictions that there is no law in Nigeria which requires the appointing authority to subject the appointment of the substantive Chief Judge of a state to the most senior judge. For the avoidance of doubt, we reproduce section 271 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigerian (CFRN) 1999 (as altered) which is the grund norm and Regulatory Framework on the appointment of the Chief Judge of a State, the said section states as follows:
“The appointment of a person to the office of Chief Judge of a State shall be made by the Governor of the State on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to confirmation of the appointment by the House of Assembly of the State.” The implication of this provision is that all judges and indeed all Lawyers qualified to hold the office of a Judge are qualified to hold the office of the Chief Judge of a state, provided that the National Judicial Council (NJC) recommends you to the Governor and the House of Assembly confirms your recommendation.
In practice, the Governor plays no factual role until the NJC recommends to the Governor. This is because it is the State Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that sends nominees (usually more than one) to the NJC, who will now recommend to the Governor amongst those chosen. Once a person has been recommended by the NJC to the Governor, the Governor has absolutely no discretion to decline such a person, unless the House of Assembly refuses to confirm.
“The implication of the foregoing is that there is no way the recent recommendation of the Hon. Justice S. C. Amadi by the NJC would engender any form of crises in the Rivers State Judiciary like that of 2014. The reason is simply because of the different scenarios. While that of 2014 was tainted with unconstitutionality, nobody has been able to fault the current recommendation of Hon. Justice S. C. Amadi on Constitutional grounds, and it is law that governs human society, including Nigeria, not sentiments.
In distinguishing the 2014 events in Rivers State under the then Governor Rotimi Ameachi, who refused to appoint the Hon. Justice Daisy Okocha as Chief Judge, contrary to the recommendation of the NJC, preferring rather to appoint his preferred candidate and his choice of most senior Judge in the state Judiciary [not State High Court], the forum noted that in the present case, the Hon. Justice S. Amadi was recommended by the NJC to the Governor as Chief Judge, accordingly, the Governor has no discretion to reject same.
“In 2014, Hon. Justice P.N.C. Agumagu who was qualified to be appointed as the Chief Judge of Rivers state in substantive capacity was not qualified to be appointed as the acting chief Judge because while he may be the most senior judge of the state judiciary as the president of the Customary Court of Appeal, he was not the most senior judge in the state High Court. For the avoidance of doubt, section 271 (4) CFRN 1999 (as altered) clearly provides as follows: “If the office of Chief Judge of a State is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the Governor of the State shall appoint the most senior Judge of the High Court to perform those functions.” The Governor of a state has absolutely no discretion in respect to appointing the most senior judge of the High Court in acting capacity but as can be seen above, this is not the case in respect to substantive capacity, as the Governor is bound to appoint whomever is recommended by the NJC the regulatory body of judicial officers in Nigeria. Secondly, in relation to the appointment of the Chief Judge in substantive capacity, former Governor Rotimi Ameachi ignored the recommendation of the NJC which was Hon. Justice Daisy Okocha and on his own motion appointed Hon. Justice P.N.C. Agumagu who was not recommended by NJC in substantive capacity, contrary to s. 271 (1) of CFRN 1999 (as altered) which has been reproduced above. That was clearly unconstitutional and was what led to the 2014 crisis in Rivers State judiciary.
“In recent history, the Hon. Justice Iche Ndu was the number sixth Judge of the Rivers State High Court when he was recommended by the NJC and appointed the Chief Judge of Rivers State by the Dr. Peter Odili led Rivers State Government. During this time, Hon. Justice E. K. Membere was the next in line after the retirement of Hon. Justice Ichioku.
“We are shocked that these persons who know too well or at least who ought to know that there is no law anywhere or even any known precedent limiting the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge to the most senior judge, have deliberately set out to mislead the public and to cause crisis. It is worthy of note that His Lordship, Hon. Justice S.C. Amadi narrowly missed out as the Chief Judge in 2016 to the incumbent Chief Judge after his nomination to the NJC by the JSC along with the incumbent Chief Judge.
“We put it on record that we volunteer to work with security operatives and relevant authorities in checkmating the activities of these mischief makers against their avowed threat to the peace of the state if the recommendation of the Hon. Justice S. C. Amadi is not rescinded.
“We thank the Governor of Rivers State, His Excellency, Chief (Barr.) Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, for adhering to constitutionality and due process of law and urge him to unlike the immediate past Governor, once again write his name in gold by adhering to the recommendation of the NJC just like he did in relation to the incumbent Chief Judge of Rivers State who is not an indigene of the State. We also urge the Rivers State House of Assembly to act likewise by confirming the person recommended to the Governor by the NJC.
“We again thank the Governor over his unprecedented show of love to the Bench and Bar in Rivers State and urge him to continue in his good works while always leaving room for improvement and inputs from well meaning Rivers people.
“We congratulate the Hon. Justice S. C. Amadi on the attainment of this noble feat. We have no doubts in our mind that His Lordship who is coming with the experience of being a former Chief Registrar of the Rivers State Judiciary whose time was very impactful, will with such a background, have a better grasp of administration, the magistracy and other aspects of the justice system in Rivers State. More so, lawyers generally see your Lordship as a very brilliant & courageous judge who has deep knowledge of the law, dedicated to service and has zero tolerance to corruption; and we hope that same will be brought to bear upon your lordship assumption of office as the Chief Judge of Rivers State,” the group stated.
That the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) and the Concerned Lawyers in Rivers State, condemned the alleged moves by the Rivers, Governor Nyesom Wike, to impose a new Chief Judge.
The groups in its statement asked Governor Wike not to approve the recommendation and appointment of Justice Simeon Amadi as Chief Judge.
They stated that Justice Akpughunum is the most senior judge while Justice Simeon Amadi comes a distant second with Justice Teetito coming third and based on seniority Justice Akpughunum, should be made the Chief Judge not Justice Amadi.
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