Rivers Condemn NJC's Suspension of Justice Agumagu
Rivers State Government has condemned in strong term the National Judicial
Council, NJC suspension of the newly appointed Chief Judge of Rivers
State, Justice P.N.C Agumagu.
The Government, in a statement signed by the Commissioner for Information,
Mrs. Ibim Semenitari said the action of the NJC, is not only
unconstitutional but an attempt to promote nepotism and sectional
The Statement reads:
“The attention of the Rivers State Government has been drawn to a
statement by the spokesperson of the National Judicial Council, NJC, Mr.
Soji Oye, announcing the purported suspension of the recently appointed
Chief Judge of Rivers State, HONOURABLE Justice P.N.C Agumagu by the NJC.
“The State government also notes further, the unprecedented but unlawful
threat by the NJC, to dismiss a sitting Chief Judge of a State as
contained in the said statement – against the clear provisions of the
Nigerian Constitution and the established tenets of federalism.
“The Rivers State government wishes to state its utter dismay at the
position of the NJC especially as its immediate effects are to undermine
the tenets and processes of justice delivery in Nigeria, the hard-earned
reputation of a very fine judge, and the integrity of the Nigerian
judiciary while eroding the Olympian stature of the NJC.
“The NJC in its decision appears not to have taken into consideration the
judgment delivered by the Honourable Justice Lambo Akanbi of the Federal
High court, Port Harcourt.
“The state government finds this position of the NJC rather curious
especially in view of the pendency of the res (subject matter) at the
Court of Appeal. The Rivers state government had gone to the courts to
seek interpretation of Section 271 of the constitution of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria as regards the appointment of a chief judge of the
state. That section of the constitution clearly states that “A person
shall not be qualified to hold office of a Judge of a High Court of a
State unless he is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in
Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period of not less than ten
“To enable it act within the confines of the law the Rivers State
Government sought the court's interpretation. The learned Justice Akanbi
in delivering his judgment declared unconstitutional the deliberate
omission of Justice Agumagu's name by NJC on the ground that Justice
Agumagu was a Judge of the Rivers State Customary Court of Appeal.
“Justice Agumagu is the most senior judge in the Rivers State judiciary
today. His very sterling record and leadership abilities was the reason
why he was seconded to the Rivers State Customary Court of Appeal in 2008
- as its President – to spearhead the establishment of that critical level
of justice delivery in Rivers State at a very troubled time in the history
of the State and indeed the Niger Delta region – due to violent militancy
and criminality. His record in that responsibility speaks for itself and
indeed qualifies him for any role in a judicial capacity at the state,
national and international level.
“Clearly the appointment of Honourable Justice P.N.C Agumagu as the
substantive Chief Judge of Rivers State satisfies every relevant standard
of the Nigerian Constitution. As the Court has already held, it accords
with the provisions of section 271 (3-5) of the Constitution of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria to the effect that: “A person shall not be
qualified to hold office of a Judge of a High Court of a State unless he
is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been
so qualified for a period of not less than ten years.” Honourable Justice
P.N.C Agumagu surpasses that constitutional benchmark by far.
“Nigerians are invited to note that Honourable Justice P.N.C Agumagu's
appointment followed substantially the clear provisions of the Nigerian
Constitution. Contrary to insinuations contained in the purported
statement of the NJC, the learned jurist did not violate any written or
unwritten creed or code of his judicial calling or the provision of the
Constitution or any other law of the land. In accordance with the
provisions of Part IIC, under Section 197 of the 1999 Constitution – his
name was submitted by the Rivers State Judicial Service to the National
Judicial Council for consideration as Chief Judge of Rivers State.
Consequently, the Governor duly received the recommendation of the NJC –
which strangely omitted the name of Justice Agumagu.
“The Rivers State government is well aware that there is no constitutional
provision compelling the governor to appoint a chief judge based on his or
her seniority or even based on the arm of the judiciary to which such a
person belongs. What the constitution requires is a minimum of 10 years
post bar qualification. This is evidenced even by the appointment of the
immediate past chief judge of the state, Justice Iche Ndu who was
appointed chief judge over his seniors at the bench. At the time of
Justice Ndu's appointment, the Justice Sotonye Denton-West and Justice
A.C. Woryi were both Justice Ndu's senior.
“Justice Denton-West was the most senior judge in the Rivers State
judiciary then, yet the NJC did not compel the governor at the time to
announce her as Chief Judge.
“The refusal of the NJC to abide by the recommendations of the Rivers
State judicial council on the appointment of the state chief judge and its
insistence on a particular candidate is a cause of worry for the Rivers
“Such insistence may appear to mark the NJC out as clearly partisan and
invariably as a party to the case. Since the NJC has shown such personal
interest, in this matter, it raises the fundamental question of how
justifiable it is to for NJC to interpose itself in a case in which it
clearly has more than a passing interest. Certainly in the light of
applicable principles of administrative law it would seem that the body
may have to take its hands off adjudicating on the matter of the Rivers
State Chief Judge or better still seek redress in the courts.
“The Rivers State Government finds the decision of the NJC to suspend
Justice Agumagu without any fair hearing from Justice Agumagu and despite
a decision of the Federal High Court, the pendency at the Court of Appeal,
Port Harcourt Division, the issue of who should be Chief Judge of Rivers
State suggests highhandedness and intolerance that is unacceptable for a
body charged with the responsibility of protecting the integrity of the
“The attitude of the body has laid credence to the fears of the Rivers
State Government that the body has been influenced by one of its members,
O.C.J Okocha (SAN) who has filial ties with the NJC's preferred candidate,
Justice Daisy Okocha. The impression is that the NJC in using its “old
boys network” could not be bothered about the propriety or
constitutionality of usurping the role of the Governor of Rivers state in
the appointment of a chief judge for the state.
“The Rivers State Government wishes to reiterate its respect and
admiration for the judiciary and the NJC but will respectfully request the
NJC not to allow itself to become a tool in the hands of those who want to
push merit to the back burner while exalting nepotism and sectional
interest. The Rivers state government will urge the NJC to proctect the
sanctity of the Courts by prosecuting the appeal which is already before
the Court of Appeal and indeed respect the constitution of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria which it has a responsibility to uphold in the
interest of justice, fair play and fair mindedness.”
Commissioner of Information and Communications, Rivers State