The Rivers State Government yesterday dismissed as clearly partisan and self serving, the suspension of the state’s Chief Judge, Justice Peter Agumagu, by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
It insisted that the NJC,by its decision, had chosen the path of unconstitutional bullying, lawlessness and injudicious racketeering and described Wednesday as a dark day for Nigeria, when the most senior justices and lawyers in the country “ resorted to high-handed self help, instead of judicial redress.”
Speaking for the state government in Port Harcourt,the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, also accused a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), O. C. J. Okocha (SAN) and an NJC member of influencing the recommendation of Justice Daisy Okocha.
Mr.Okocha, reacting, said the Rivers State government’s allegation was nothing but absolute balderdash, hogwash, nonsense, falsehood and totally irresponsible.
Semenitari said the NJC appeared ”not to have taken into consideration the judgment delivered by Justice Lambo Akanbi of the Federal High court, Port Harcourt in which it is a party.
“The state government finds this position of the NJC rather curious especially as Justice Agumagu is the most senior judge in the Rivers State judiciary and a very respected judicial officer.
“The Rivers State government had gone to the courts to seek interpretation of Section 271 (3-5) 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 practise as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period of not less than ten years.’
“To enable it to act within the confines of the law, the Rivers State Government sought the court’s interpretation. The learned Justice Akanbi, in delivering his judgment faulted the deliberate omission of Justice Agumagu’s name among the list of senior judges qualified to be Chief Judge of Rivers State.
“Justice P.N.C Agumagu is the most senior judge in the Rivers State judiciary and was seconded to establish the Customary Court of Appeal in 2008.
“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 the arm of the judiciary to which such a person belongs. What the constitution requires is a minimum of 10 years post-call 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 senior at the bench. At the time of Justice Ndu’s appointment, Justice Sotonye Denton-West was the most senior judge in the Rivers State judiciary, yet the NJC did not compel the governor at the time to announce her as Chief Judge.”
But Mr.Okocha, responding to the broadside from the Rivers State government, said: “As at the time when in July 2013, NJC met and took a decision to recommend Justice Okocha (Daisy) over Justice Agumagu, I was not in the meeting. I had to excuse myself.
“Everybody knows that in keeping with due process, if you have a personal interest in a matter and of course, the personal relationship is enough to indicate that OCJ Okocha must have a personal interest. So, I left the room.
“The allegation by the Rivers State Government that the NJC has been hijacked by political jobbers for selfish interest is absolute balderdash, hogwash and absolute nonsense. NJC is constituted by the most eminent judges in this country. The CJN is the chairman.
“If they are accusing the entire NJC of being politicised, let them point to the particular member that is believed is a politician or being influenced by politicians. It is absolute falsehood and a totally irresponsible statement.
“Agumagu is now being investigated. While his investigation is going on, it is only fair and right that he has to step aside, to allow for due process to be carried out. Agumagu is being investigated for what the NJC considers to be a bridge of his oath of office and a bridge of the code of conduct of a judicial officer. He has been asked to step aside and I hope that at the end of the day, we will all hear the outcome.”
The Chief of Staff, Government House, Port Harcourt, Chief Tony Okocha, said that the NJC acted in error over Agumagu’s suspension, which he said would not stand, in view of the pending suit at the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, filed by Daisy.
Chief of staff also noted that the NJC, headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, should have waited for the decision of the appellate court, accusing the council of taking