Addressing The Decay In Imo Judiciary
Recently, I paid a visit to the Imo State Judiciary Headquarters in Owerri on an investigation; but was attracted to the appalling Infrastructural situation in the environment. The unfortunate observation compelled me to take a walk round the different blocks and offices within the vicinity. I further probed into administration of the Judiciary in the state, an exercise that gave very shocking revelations.
A quiet entrance into the Legal Aid council Block gave a picture of an abandoned area. Its infrastructure may not have been attended to in the last three decades. The thatch-like buildings are housing offices, occupied by persons whose attitude to work clearly depict and were shaped by the nature of environment they find themselves.
A staff of the Unit who spoke to our correspondent on the grounds of anonymity confided that they are only following the hands of the government and their bosses. 'The government is not serious and you don't expect us to kill ourselves for nothing.'
We proceeded to the office Block of the Directorate of Public Prosecution. Although we saw a semblance of an office occupied by committed staff, the dilapidated state of the office buildings betrayed them. Even the assess to the DPP's office is of a shameful sight.
Although, no staff of the DPP's office was willing to speak to our crew, it was glaring that the working environment is not conducive. Power supply in the office is zero. There are no contemporary office equipments to enhance performance. It was strange to discover that there is no generating set that powers the DPP's office; little wonder case files stay longer than necessary in the Directorate. Now, whom do we blame-the civil servants that come to work, but do not have the enabling environment to function or the government and her agents who have chosen to politicize everything, including the Judiciary?
From one discovery to another; we delved into the issue of staffing at the Imo Judiciary, especially, as it concerns the appointment of Judges in the State.
I am still battling to believe that in the entire Imo State, there are only thirteen sitting High Court Judges. It is however, the stack reality. There is an upsurge in crime and litigations in the state, but there is no corresponding expansion and engagement of Judges to handle the cases. It is shocking to note that in nearly ten years now, no new Judge has been appointed in the state. Many have died; some others are retired, but efforts are not being made to replace them.
Investigations revealed that some Judges in Imo state have over six hundred cases pending in their courts. Some Courts in the state do not even have presiding Judges.
For instance, in Ahiazu Mbaise, the High Court stopped sitting long ago. The last Judge that sat in the Court, Hon. Justice Duruoha Igwe was transferred to Owerri without a replacement. At present, the entire Mbaise has only one High Court which is grossly inadequate.
Again, in Isiala Mbano, the sitting Judge, Justice T.E. Chikeka was transferred to fill a vacant space in Nkwerre. Till date, nobody has been sent to replace him.
In Uruala High Court, the last Judge that sat there, Justice Ononeze Mmadu was moved to Orlu High Court and till date, Uruala has remained without a sitting Judge.
In Okigwe, Court 1 is functional, while Court 11 is not.
Reacting to the development, an Okigwe-based legal practitioner who wants to be anonymous says, 'there should be at least two Courts in Okigwe area; assuming something happens and there is an emergency, we can now approach the second Court.'
No doubt, the minimum number of Judges Imo should have is an average of thirty, as against the thirteen it presently has.
Independent investigations revealed that political interests overtime have not helped matters.
A senior Judicial officer who spoke on the grounds of anonymity explains, 'the fact that state governors do not have control over the process is one of the factors discouraging them from taking necessary steps, unlike in the case of Magistrates which is entirely a state affair.'
'Appointment of Judges requires stringent conditions. The process is that the State Judicial Service Commission, the state governor and Chief Judge of the state are required to forward a list of nominees to the National Judicial Service Commission for screening and consideration.'
One now wonders why the Executive and Legislative arms of government are properly funded, while the Judiciary is left to suffer. This is unacceptable.
Ultimately, Imo state Judiciary needs a declaration of a state of emergency, if it must continue to function as an independent arm and last hope of a common man.
Until that is done, the Judiciary in the state shall remain at the mercy of the other two arms and susceptible to abuse and manipulations.
The time to act is now!