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Suspension Of Rivers State Chief Judge “Illegal And Unconstitutional,” Falana Says

Source: pointblanknews.com
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Mr. Falana accused the NJC of disregarding a Federal High Court judgment on which the Chief Judge's appointment was predicated.

A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has condemned the suspension of the Chief Judge of Rivers State, Peter Agumagu, by the National Judicial Council, NJC, describing it as unconstitutional.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mr. Falana called for the reversal of the suspension “without delay.”

“It should also withdraw the query issued to the Chief Judge since his appointment was predicated on a judgment of the Federal High Court. Instead of exposing the judiciary to unwarranted ridicule the NJC is advised to pursue the appeal which it has filed against the judgment of the Federal High Court on the crisis,” said Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

“The NJC under the able and incorruptible leadership of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Honourable Justice Aloma Maryam Mukhtar has done excellently well in repositioning the judiciary. As a body constituted majorly by the cream of the legal profession, the NJC should not allow itself to be diverted from the ongoing progressive sanitization of the judiciary,” he said.

Last Thursday, the NJC announced that it had suspended Mr. Agumagu, stating that his appointment as the Chief Judge of Rivers State was illegal, as it did not comply with the provisions of Section 271 of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulated that a state governor must appoint a chief judge on the recommendation of the NJC.

In addition to the suspension, the NJC stated that it had also issued a query to Mr. Agumagu to explain in writing, within four days, why he should not be removed from office as a judicial officer for failing to abide by his oath of office to uphold the constitution and laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Mr. Falana described the NJC's query to Mr. Agumagu as “an afterthought” and that the judge was not accorded any form of fair hearing as stipulated in the Constitution.

“Not too long ago Justice Ayo Isa Salami, the immediate past President of the Court of Appeal was given fair hearing by the NJC before he was placed on suspension. Ditto for Justice Mohammed Talba of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory. Even the Justice of the Court of Appeal and the two High Court judges who were recently indicted and warned by the NJC were given fair hearing.

“It is therefore inexplicable why the NJC decided to suspend Justice Agumagu before asking him to explain the allegations of judicial misconduct levelled against him by a member of the NJC.”

Mr. Falana accused the NJC of disregarding a Federal High Court judgment on which the Chief Judge's appointment was predicated.

“The NJC ought to be berated for treating the judgment of the Federal High Court with brazen contempt. Until that verdict is vacated by a higher court, all authorities and persons in the country are under compulsion to comply with it.

“When the NJC lost the legal battle at the Federal High Court, it took the right decision by challenging the judgment on appeal. It is therefore subversive of the rule of law on the part of the NJC to resort to administrative tactics to set aside a valid and subsisting judgment of a competent court. It is an invitation to anarchy,” said Mr. Falana.

In his judgment delivered on March 18th 2014, Justice Lambo Akanbi specifically held that the interpretation of section 171 of the constitution by the NJC was patently erroneous and that the governor s not a robot to accept the recommendation of the NJC hook, line and sinker, according to Mr. Falana.

“In saying that the president of the Rivers State Customary Court of Appeal was eminently qualified to be appointed the Chief Judge, the Federal High Court, the Federal High Court accused the NJC of inconsistency having previously recommended judges of similar courts for appointment as Chief Judges on two occasions in the recent past.

“The judgment may be wrong but that remains the law until it is set aside. In the circumstance, the incendiary statement issued by the NJC after its emergency meeting last week in which the body purported to have set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court is the height of

contempt.
“As the NJC is not an appointing authority, it lacks the power to suspend the Chief Judge of Rivers State or any judge in Nigeria for that matter. Section 11 (1) of the Interpretation Act provides that where an enactment confers a power to appoint a person to an office or to exercise any functions, whether for a specified period or not, the power includes the power to remove or suspend him.

“In the case of Justice Salami, the NJC illegally suspended him from office. President Goodluck Jonathan approved the suspension and appointed an acting President for the Court. However, when the NJC decided to recommend his reinstatement, it was rejected by the appointing authority.

“In like manner, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State has rejected the purported suspension of the Chief Judge by the NJC. Since the Chief Judge was not appointed by the NJC, the latter lacks the vires to suspend him.

“No doubt, the NJC is empowered to recommend the appointment, suspension or removal of a judge to the appointing authorities. As a recommending body, the NJC should desist from placing judges on suspension without the approval of the appointing authorities, that is, the President and State Governors,” Mr. Falana added.

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