Attempts by a member of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief O.C.J. Okocha (SAN), to ensure the emergence of his elder sister, Justice Daisy W. Okocha, as the next Chief Judge of Rivers State, are driving the succession crisis in the state judiciary, THISDAY gathered Sunday.
It was learnt that Okocha has embarked on a campaign to mobilise the support of elders of Ikwerre ethnic nationality for his sister as part of his strategy to facilitate her succession to Justice Iche Ndu, who retired on August 19, 2013.
The bid is instructive in the light of the fact that the chief actors in the succession crisis such as Justice Okocha, the state Governor, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi; the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Worgu Boms and former President, Customary Court of Appeal, Justice Peter Agumagu, who the state government recently swore in as Justice Nduâ€™s successor, are from the Ikwerre clan.
The state judiciary has been thrown into a crisis, which has pitted the state government against the NJC since the retirement of Justice Ndu.
Whereas the NJC, which sources said was being influenced by Okocha, insisted on the ratification of its recommendation of Justice Okocha as the next chief judge, the state government demurred.
Rather, it has thrown its weight behind Justice Agumagu, whose controversial process of emerging the state chief judge has drawn the ire of the NJC which has not only suspended him, but set up a panel to probe his alleged complicity in the saga.
It was gathered that Okocha, as a member of NJC, influenced the NJC to recommend Justice Okocha, to Amaechi for appointment as the state chief judge contrary to the recommendation of Justice Agumagu by the Rivers State Judicial Service Commission to the NJC.
The commission had clearly recommended Justice Agumagu to the NJC as its first and most qualified choice to succeed Justice Ndu.
It was learnt that Okocha had been trying to manipulate the NJC to insist on his sisterâ€™s choice with the assistance of a top official of the council who is his close friend and was his course mate.
According to sources, the unholy alliance between the duo made the NJC to reject Justice Agumaguâ€™s nomination as chief judge on the grounds that he is not the most senior judge in the state high court and could not cross over from the Customary Court of Appeal to become the chief judge of the state.
According to one of the sources, these twin qualification criteria of most senior judge and non-crossing over are creations, not of the 1999 Constitution that prescribes only 10 yearsâ€™ post call to the bar as qualification to the office of the chief judge, but of the NJC.
It was learnt that NJCâ€™s insistence on seniority and that a judge of the Customary Court of Appeal cannot cross over to the state high court was done to pave the way for the emergence of Justice Okocha as the chief judge.
As part of his plot to instal his sister as the next chief judge of Rivers State, Okocha had written a letter, dated February 3, 2014, to the President-General of Ogbakor Ikwerre Convention (the umbrella body of the Ikwerre ethnic group), Prof. Augustine Onyozu, seeking his intervention on behalf of Justice Okocha.
In the letter, Okocha entreated Onyozu to urge Amaechi to make Justice Okocha the chief judge principally because she is from the Ikwerre ethnic stock like the governor.
â€œMay I therefore suggest that the Ogbakor Ikwerre Convention, perhaps through a high-powered panel/committee of Ochi-onhas, intervenes in the matter and advises Governor Amaechi toâ€¦ensure that Justice Daisy Okocha is duly appointed, duly confirmed and sworn in as the chief judge of Rivers State; as any failure in that regard will definitely reverse the several gains made by the Ikwerre ethnic nationality in the scheme of things in Rivers State,â€ he had said in the letter.
Boms had once alluded to the partisanship of Okocha in the succession crisis in the state judiciary when he said: â€œWe urge the NJC to disallow the personal sentiments and entrenched interests of some of its members in the Rivers chief judge matter, and treat the Rivers State judiciary and its judges as it treats other statesâ€™ and federal judiciaries and their judges and as provided for under the constitution, as the issue is not a family affair or succession to a family stool in which case members of a particular lineage are the only persons qualified for consideration for succession.
This is public office with constitutionally provided statements on qualification for succession and provides no room for any one or persons to use their membership of the exalted body to lend a hand to a relation or a friend outside the clear provisions of the constitution as now confirmed by the court.â€