River State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, last night signed into law the Rivers State High Court (Amendment) Law 2014.
The state House of Assembly had in the afternoon passed the bill and directed the Clerk of the assembly to immediately forward the bill to the governor.
This came as supporters of the governor, took to the streets yesterday morning to protest against the assumption of office of Justice Daisy Okocha as administrative judge of the state as directed by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The assembly, in passing the state High Court (Amendment) Law 2014, amended Section 40 of the Principal Law of 2001.
Section 40 of the Principal Law, which was passed by the fifth legislative assembly, was amended by the addition of a new sub-section 2, to read:
“Where the office of the Chief Judge is vacant and it is impracticable to appoint an acting Chief Judge, or a Chief Judge, the Chief Registrar shall assign cases to any judge and perform other administrative duties until an acting Chief Judge or a Chief Judge is appointed.”
The assembly, presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Leyii Kwanee, sat the Old Executive Chambers of Government House about one hour after its committee on judiciary held a public hearing on the bill.
All the 18 members present voted unanimously in favour of the amendment.
Addressing members of the assembly after the amendment, Kwanee said no amount of sacrifice was too much to ensure the peace and progress of the state.
“I want to thank my colleagues for your support and sacrifice in the quick passage of the bill. I want to assure you that no amount of sacrifice is too much to pay. It is for the peace and progress of this state that we took the decision. All of our constituents are suffering and the judiciary has to function,” he said.
He directed the Clerk of the assembly to immediately transmit a copy of the bill to the state governor for his assent. Earlier, at the public hearing, Kwanee said, “The seventh assembly under the current leadership would not be intimidated out of its constitutional responsibility of making laws for the state.
He said the amendment of the High Court Law would create way for the resolution of the crisis that had impaired the state judiciary.
Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary and sponsor of the bill, Golden Chioma, representing Etche Constituency II, said the essence of the bill was to ensure that there was no vacuum in the judiciary.
He stated that the amendment would remove some lacuna found in the Principal Law, which would, also, address the current crisis in the state judiciary with regard to the appointment of a Chief Judge.
He said his committee received six memoranda on the amendment, including one from the Chief Felix Obua-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state.
In his contribution, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Hon. Wogu Boms, welcomed the amendment of the law by the assembly, saying it would enable the people to have an uninterrupted access to justice.
Also, on behalf of pro-Amaechi lawmakers in the National Assembly from the state, the Chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Hon. Dakuku Peterside, said the High Court law was made by the state House of Assembly in 2001, and can also be amended by the same House.
They pledged their support for the amendment, saying the assembly had the constitutional powers to do so.
Meanwhile, commercial activities were brought to a halt for several hours yesterday in Port Harcourt when thousands of supporters of Amaechi took to the streets on a peaceful protest following the resumption of duty Justice Daisy Okocha as the Administrative Judge of the state.
The protesters, made up mostly of youths and politicians mobilised from the 23 local government areas of the state, alleged that Okocha, who was recently appointed the Administrative Judge of the state by the NJC, forced the office of the Chief Judge open on Tuesday and held a secret meeting with some judges of the state High Court.
The protesters, in buses, stormed the state Judiciary Complex at about 7am carrying placards, some of which read: “Daisy Okocha, whose interest is being served?” “Brazen impunity is an invitation to anarchy. NJC na wao!” and “stop this arrogance of power.”