The Rivers State Government has condemned what it described as the intrusion of the National Judicial Commission (NJC) into the local politics of the state.
The government also accused the NJC of applying different standards to states under similar conditions as Rivers by insisting that Governor Chibuike Amaechi must appoint a particular judge as acting chief judge of the state.
Addressing journalists in Port Harcourt yesterday, the state’s Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Worgu Boms, said the NJC was usurping the powers of the state governor by insisting that only a particular judge should be appointed by the governor as acting chief judge.
He insisted that the stance of the NJC was unacceptable and would amount to abdication of constitutional responsibilities of the governor.
The commissioner also lamented the worsening politicisation of the judiciary in the state, stressing that the state government had no hand in it.
Boms said: “It is unfortunate that there are dedicated attempts to politicise the judiciary, certainly not from our own side. The constitution recognises or the framers, you must commend them for their wisdom, they saw that there could be a time when there will be a possibility of not having a chief judge for one reason or the other, which, if you ask me, is normal; when a king dies, there’s always the initial succession challenges, in fact the crisis now is because of the governorship succession so it’s normal.
“The lawmakers knew that there may not be smooth transition from one chief judge to the other and they said ‘in the meantime, the governor is empowered without recourse to anybody to appoint an acting chief judge, whose tenure will only be three month, he can’t reappoint that same person except on the approval of the NJC. So the NJC comes in only at the point of reappointing that same person, in this case we have not gone to the NJC, we want to appoint another person the NJC now writes letters to judges ‘don’t accept appointment from him unless he appoints a particular person’. If you were governor would you accede to that? It is not possible.
“So, who started the politicisation; I have powers to appoint, you have no business in it, you come to tell me to appoint a particular person, you are neither a court nor the appointing authority. It is unfortunate and this is public issue, no hiding about it, it happened in Osun, it’s happening in Abia till now, in Adamawa, the same thing, no judge was written to decline being appointed and I have told you here that judges are under the discipline of the NJC.”
The attorney general said since the state would not wish judges in the state to have issues with the NJC, it had decided not to appoint any acting chief judge until the NJC withdrew its memo to judges in the state.
Boms said: “We as a government says we don’t want judges to be in conflict with the NJC. Therefore, we won’t bother to appoint any acting chief judge.
When the letter is withdrawn, we’ll make the appointment. It’s as simple as that because if I were governor, I will not accept a dictate from anybody when the law says I am the person to decide that issue. It will amount to abdication of constitutional duties for the governor to accept a dictate from another body, no matter how eminent that body or its members are, that’s the point we are making.
“The governor will not abdicate his constitutional responsibilities as granted to him by the constitution to appoint an acting chief judge, in doing so, he will not accept any dictate from anybody. When he does it and you don’t like it, there is a place you go to challenge it, but don’t tell governor ‘you must accept Mr A’, it’s not going to happen.”
The attorney general also condemned a recent comment made by former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Hon. OCJ Okocha (SAN), which he said he would encourage the disobedience of a court order.
According to him, “The senior advocate was not right in law when he made the public believe that anyone affected by an order of court and who esteems that order to be wrong, or fraudulent, or improperly obtained and not made in appropriate circumstance or without jurisdiction, that such person was free or entitled to disobey it even though he can also go to same court to set it aside. This is not only a dangerous statement to be made to the public; it is also irredeemably and irreconcilably in conflict with the position of the law.”
He situated the comments on the political situation in the state, adding that the senior advocate might be joining the fray.
“This is very unfortunate coming from any lawyer at all, but more so, from a senior advocate. The senior advocate, from the point of view of law, is wrong. He is inciting the defendant not to obey the court order must be seen in the wider context of the bitter politics of Rivers State (to remove Governor Amaechi by any means whatsoever) of which who becomes the chief judge of Rivers State or who gets appointed now as the acting chief judge has been made a sub text and has become a consuming passion for some," he said.