Stop This Looming Catastrophe In Rivers State!!!
Media hype should not be a substitute for needed knowledge-based and proactive intervention from an enlightened and patriotic civil society. Rivers State is about being engulfed in a judicial cataclysm.
We managed to return from the labyrinth of executive arm-twisting orchestrated around police-state impunity that was itself actuated by the suicidal war for the soul and apparatus of PDP in the state.
In spite of the unconscionable and self-seeking silence of the majority in the state, the explosive situation was eventually doused by the belated action of the Police Service Commission in redeploying PC Joseph Mbu out of the state. Quite a pity the PSC acted so late to earlier calls for it to do the needful.
And for the same reason, the National Judicial Council (NJC) is currently in the very centre of the storm where it should have been the helmsman of a rescue vessel. Can Rivers state and Nigeria survive this storm?
The Amaechi-Nsirim-Wike-Jonathan skirmish involved only the executive body directly, and only had a backlash on the legislature and the judiciary; but there was still some measure of expectation that the judiciary could be resorted to as an arbiter; thus, the people had some reason to expect a modicum of state authority, and were restrained from mass resort to self-help. But now that the echelon of the judiciary at the state and national levels is pitched in a suicide bombing judicial skirmish, where do law-abiding citizens resort to?
Honestly, I don't know where we should run to; but I know that the people of Rivers State have been pushed to the wall, and must engage in a survivalist civic response of stopping the power mongers from plying their trade on the people's hallowed orchard.
The peculiar problem in Rivers State is that different interest groups in the state (as with the South-South generally) are unduly polarized along very clannish and sectional divides that it is never possible to muster public support to withstand any evil such as this judicial impasse. Else, how come that bodies like the NBA, Council of Traditional Rulers, Student Union, ASUU, NLC, TUC, MAN, wonder-working Religious Leaders, and vociferous CSO henchmen are all dumb-founded!
The trouble is that the leadership of virtually each of these bodies in the state owes one illicit allegiance or the other to some vested personages of the feuding parties, and is thus incapable of providing credible mediation; each of these bodies is thus too scared to attempt brokering a truce. Else, what is the intractable issue in the impasse? One must dare to proffer a solution.
An objective opinion is that the Nigerian Constitution currently vests the power of appointment of judges on the executive, both at state and federal level, and does not allow the federal government directly or by any of its agencies to usurp the power of a state governor in this constitutional mandate. It lies between the Governor and state legislature to decide who emerges the substantive chief judge of a state, ditto for the President and NASS in the case of the Chief Justice.
It does not matter if the appointers (governor or president) appointed the 'wrong' candidate out of those recommended by the NJC, such as appointing the youngest or least competent among those recommended. This is the present state of constitutional arrangement, even if we want to have it changed. Currently, the President and the governors have the right to make a wrong choice, so long as it is from among those recommended by the NJC.
Whether it was right or wrong for Governor Amaechi to swear in Justice Agumagu, following the presumed clearing of the coast by a federal high court judgment, it was mere political brinkmanship and a marked demonstration of political insensitivity for the NJC leadership to have slammed Agumagu with a suspension - when there was no report of wrong-doing against him.
The NJC should have resorted to the law court for adjudication. More so, an unbiased rendering of section 271 of the Constitution can never allow the NJC to directly appoint anyone as an acting Chief Judge of any of Nigeria's federating states, and certainly not when a state governor is lawfully on seat and functioning.
By the unambiguous provision of S. 271 (4) of the Constitution, the only constitutional line of action open for the NJC was (and is) for the NJC to get a mandamus on Governor Amaechi to appoint the most senior judge in Rivers State (assuming and not just because it is Daisy Okocha) as an acting CJ. The latest illegality by the NJC combatants has actuated the anomaly of the state executive distastefully sanctioning the judicial workers for carrying out their normal duties under a presumably unlawful leadership (of NJC-appointed) Daisy Okocha.
One may ask on the part of both Justices Agumagu and Daisy Okocha why each of them prefers the state judiciary and entire state burning on fire just for them to occupy the office for a time! Do they normally exert as much pressure to see that any case assigned to them in their courts is quickly and fairly disposed of, even when the executive arm did not provide an enabling environment for the court to function effectively? Does the high calling to the temple of justice place so much emphasis on a highly politicized post of a state CJ?
Will the non-occupation of the post of CJ rob an unjustly denied candidate the joy of doing justice expeditiously to any matter assigned to him/her. Is there no tomorrow for any denied position to be reached in the future, rather than joining issues with power-mongering politicians in such a brash manner? Where then is the blessedness of a time-honoured injunction to allow oneself to be defrauded, rather than fighting so dirty over a political appointment to the hallowed temple of justice? Gentlemanliness and virtuous qualities of ladyship even forbid this disgraceful fight for elevation of self? The justices involved in this judicial cataclysm have exposed their flanks to serious questioning of their dispositions to selflessness in the temple of justice; integrity and public confidence have taken a good flight in all this.
As we had advised the PSC during the Mbu-Amaechi face-off, the tide is waning for the NJC to show sensitivity and maturity for playing a conciliatory role: an exit from the state judiciary must now be found for both Agumagu and Daisy. Agumagu can be persuaded to proceed on retirement, while Daisy can move over to the federal judicial service if she will not want accelerated retirement, too. This will clear the coast for the appointment of a neutral chief judge for the state, and stop this looming catastrophe. Both the Governor and the NJC pugilists must draw a line between preservation of ego and serving the interest of Rivers people.
The present onslaught against the judiciary is certainly carrying the political horse-play too far into the judicial arena. The perennial weakness of leadership among the civil society, religious bodies, traditional rulers' council, organized labour, press, NBA, and Nigerian political class in general has continuously robbed the state of the benefits of having credible mediators in critical crises moments like this. There is a dire need for introspection within the leadership of these bodies, especially as the NJC and all other parties consider what best to do with the ball in their collective court now.
Victor TC Anyanwu - Policy Analyst/ Executive Director.
Citizens for Justice, Employment & Transparency (C-JET), P/H Office. 08036676651.