Don't Dare NJC: Lawyers Warn Amaechi

By Jerry Needam
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Rivers State Governor, Rt. Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi

League of Rivers State Lawyers in Abuja has said that the swearing in of the President of Customary Court of Appeal in Rivers State Hon Justice Peter Agumagu as the Acting Chief Judge of the State instead of Hon Justice Daisy Okocha who, the National Judicial Council has recommended for appointment as the Chief Judge is a slap on the NJC.

The Chairman of the League Mr. Timi Briggs gave this warning today in a press statement issued in Abuja

Mr Briggs said that the judicial arm of government is independent and as the last hope of the common man, her functions and processes should not be left in the hands of another arm of government for the fear that they may be abused. This is what Gov Amaechi's inordinate ambition will cause to the judiciary unless he is put under check.

'I see politics and executive interferences in this hurry by Governor Amaechi to over reach and ridicule the NJC. By hurriedly swearing in a man who the NJC had rejected as unfit for the job of a Chief Judge, Amaechi has told the NJC to 'go to hell'. We have nothing against Justice Agumagu but as lawyers, there is the urgent need to insulate the judiciary from Gov Amaechi's political manipulations and influences. If this is not done, the essence of the judicial arm of government in a democracy will be destroyed' he said.

According to the League, Rivers State is passing through a trying time and every hand must be on deck to restore normalcy to the state. While we are still battling to restore the outsourced State House of Assembly, it is wrong for the Governor to open another stage of battle with the judiciary. Judges have their rules about succession and the NJC is loudest voice. This is not new and many states of the federation have had to use the same uniform rules in choosing a succeeding Chief Judge.

'Even though Amaechi preferred Agumagu to Okocha in appointing a CJ for the state, the decision of the NJC is almost sacrosanct and must be respected. This is the minimum that Amaechi needs to do to show that he is a democratic and has no ulterior motive' he added, noting that it is not proper for Justice Agumagu to hold the dual position of President Court of Appeal and Acting Chief Judge at the same time. This is wrong in law and practice.

The Chairman further said that even if it was difficult for Gov Amaechi to secure the ratification of the parliament, the least he could have done is to appoint Justice Okocha, who the NJC has already recommended pending ratification. This is not a matter that leaves the governor with any choice.

It will be recalled that not long ago, the NJC, had met and recommended the appointment of Hon Justice Daisy Okocha alongside other judges from other jurisdictions whose matters were brought for their consideration. Subsequently, a letter was written to the Rivers State Governor communicating the decision of the NJC to enable him forward the name of Justice Okocha to the State Assembly (now National Assembly) for ratification.

Rather than do that or allow the recommended candidate to function in acting capacity as the Chief Judge, Amaechi dared the NJC and appointed his choice candidate for the job Justice Agumagu who the NJC had rejected. Amaechi has never hidden his dislike for Justice Okocha, who, lawyers describe as tough and straight without bending the rules.

'Although mistakes have been made, it is never wrong for amends to be effected' the Chairman said, urging the NJC to right the wrongs of Amaechi in this matter as a way of saving the judiciary from humiliation and executive recklessness.

Barr Timi Briggs
21st August, 2013