Court sacks Rivers acting CJ

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A Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital has nullified the appointment of Justice Peter Agumagu as the Acting Chief Judge of Rivers State.

The court also directed the state governor, Rotimi Amaechi to comply with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution on the appointment of an acting chief judge for the state.

The Kengena Unity Forum led by Boma Goodhead and Ajenyanate Samuel had gone to court to challenge Agumagu’s appointment as an acting chief judge of the state by Amaechi.

The plaintiff maintained that the state governor erred by appointing an acting chief judge from the Customary Court as against the provisions of the Constitution that the most senior judge from the State High Court should be selected as the acting chief judge.

Amaechi had on August 20, 2013 swore in Justice Agumagu, who was then the President of the Customary Appeal Court in the state, as the acting state chief judge, following the retirement of former chief judge of the state, Justice Iche Ndu.

But ruling on the matter on Wednesday, the presiding judge, Justice Lambo Akanbi, described the controversy surrounding the appointment of an acting chief judge as needless, adding that the 1999 Constitution was explicit on matter.

Akanbi, however, did not give consent to the plea that Justice Daisy Okocha of the State High Court be directed to take charge as the Acting Chief Judge of the State, adding that doing otherwise would mean usurping the powers of the governor and the National Judicial Commission to make such appointment.

“The question as to who qualifies to be appointed as acting chief judge of the state has generated a lot of needless controversy. The provision of section 271, sub-section 4 of the constitution is very clear, explicit and without ambiguity. It says the governor shall appoint the most senior judge of the High Court.

“I have evidence before me unchallenged that his Lordship, my Lord, the Honorable Justice P.N.C Agumagu is a judge and indeed, the President of the Customary Court of Appeal of Rivers State.

“The inevitable conclusion I have reached is that His Lordship, the Honorable Justice P.N.C. Agumagu, is not qualified as a State High Court Judge hence he is not suitable and unqualified to be appointed as Acting Chief Judge of the High Court of Rivers State.

“The only consequential order I should make in the circumstance is to direct the governor to comply with the constitutional provision on the appointment of an Acting Chief Judge of the State High Court as provided under Section 271, sub-section 4 of the 1999 Constitution. That shall be the judgement of the court,” Justice Akanbi stated.

Counsel to the plaintiff and Legal Adviser to Kengena Unity Forum, Tubotamuno Dick, told newsmen shortly after the ruling that they delighted that the court agreed with their submissions.

Dick expressed the need for the state governor to swear in Justice Okocha as the acting chief judge of the state, adding that the Nigerian Bar Association and other relevant bodies will protest if Amaechi failed to comply with the directive of the Federal High Court.

“We expected that between today and tomorrow, the governor should swear in Honorable Justice Daisy Okocha as the acting chief judge of the State High Court. Failure to do so, we will call on the NBA and other relevant bodies to protest,” he said.

Also, counsel to the state government (defendant), Tuduru Ede, said they were not satisfied with the ruling on the matter and added that they (state government) would appeal the judgement.

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