Crisis Looms In Rivers State Judiciary Over Appointment Of Chief Judge

 Rivers State Judiciary

The recent approval of the appointment of Justice Simeon Chibuzor Amadi as Chief Judge of Rivers State by the National Judicial Council (NJC) to succeed the incumbent Chief Judge of the State, Justice Adanma Iyayi-Lamikanran who is due to retire from active service in May, 2021 in place of Joy Akpughunum,the most senior Judge has drawn the ire of some members of the legal profession in the State.

Some Lawyers are therefore questioning the rationale behind the State Government and State Judicial Council (SJC) not including the name of Justice Akpughunum in the list forwarded to to the NJC for approval as substantive Chief Judge of the State while the names of her juniors were included.

The Lawyers in a press statement,posited that if the situation is not urgently addressed,it could plunge the State Judiciary into a needless crisis.

We publish the concerns of the Lawyers below:

Press Statement

WE ABHOR THE ATTEMPT TO ORCHESTRATE ANOTHER CRISIS IN THE JUDICIARY IN RIVERS STATE THROUGH THE PRESENTATION OF JUSTICE S. C. AMADI AS CHIEF JUDGE OF RIVERS STATE OVER JUSTICE JOY N. AKPUGHUNUM, THE MOST SENIOR JUDGE OF THE HIGH COURT AFTER THE INCUMBENT CHIEF JUDGE, JUSTICE ADANMA IYAYI-LAMIKANRAN

It was with shock that we received the news on Friday, March 19, 2021 that the National Judicial Council (NJC) had approved the appointment of His Lordship, Justice Simeon Chibuzor Amadi as Chief Judge of Rivers State to succeed the incumbent Chief Judge of the state, the Honourable Justice Adanma Iyayi-Lamikanran who is to retire from active service in May, 2021.

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Our shock flows from our memories of the ugly crisis the judiciary was embroiled in the last time an adventurous governor stepped over the most senior judge of the High Court to appoint another judge rendering judicial services at the Customary Court of Appeal in Rivers State.

The 2014 Judiciary crisis which led to the closure of all the Courts in Rivers State was put in motion by Governor Chibuike Amaechi’s refusal to swear in His Lordship, the Honourable Justice Daisy Okocha, the most senior Judge of the High Court of Rivers State, who had also been cleared for appointment by the NJC from a list of two nominees, the Honourable Justice Daisy Okocha and the Honourable Justice Peter N. C. Agumagu.

Governor Amaechi jettisoned the recommendation of the NJC and swore in Justice P. N. C. Agumamagu, plunging the Judiciary into a deep crisis, confusion and a period of uncertainty.
As Minister of State for Education at the time, Governor Nyesom Wike openly and actively supported the emergence of Justice Okocha as Chief Judge.

It is worthy of note that Justice Okocha served for only six months as Chief Judge.
When Governor Nyesom Wike assumed office in 2015 he nominated the most senior judge of the High Court, the Honourable Justice Adanma Iyayi-Lamikanran for the office of Chief Judge of Rivers State to the NJC and she was duly cleared for appointment by the NJC.

That decision of His Excellency to nominate the most senior judge of the Judiciary for appointment as Chief Judge was hailed by the legal profession and civil society especially because the nominee was not an indigene of Rivers State.

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The Governor was hailed because he kept faith with a hallowed tradition even in that unlikely situation; this tradition which is also practiced in the apex court of Nigeria, the Court of Appeal and the federal courts of first instance, that is, the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, dissuades unhealthy competition and jostling for leadership, promotes the independence of the judiciary, assures seamless transition and succession, continuity and avails the public the certainty of experience in office.

The legal community in Rivers State is at a loss as to why His Lordship, the Honourable Justice Joy Akpughunum was excluded by the government of Rivers State in the list of nominees sent by the state to the NJC for consideration in the succession to the Chief Judgeship of Rivers State, a list that featured the Honourable Justice S. O. Iragunima, second most senior behind Justice Joy Akpughunum [she is now retired], Justice S. C. Amadi, third most senior and Justice E. Teetito, fourth most senior. What reasons informed the exclusion of Justice Joy Akpughunum, who apart from being the most senior judge after the incumbent Chief Judge is outstandingly brilliant, diligent, fair and most importantly, completely free of any smear of corruption? Why was the NJC mischievously presented with a fait accompli to make a choice between candidates that by judicial tradition ought to have been considered only AFTER the most senior was found unworthy or unqualified by the NJC?

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There has been great disquiet in legal circles since this unsavoury news broke last Friday. Theories of political calculations and ethnic bias are being churned out to explain this policy flip by a government that prides itself as being respectful of the law, judicial tradition and the judiciary. A storm is brewing in Rivers State as a result of this indiscreet application of executive power to pervert judicial tradition. We lay no blames at the feet of the NJC but we humbly urge that august body to cause an investigation to be carried out to ascertain the reasons tradition was jettisoned for unknown factors and considerations. We also humbly urge the Government of Rivers State to retrace its steps before the matter escalates into a full blown crisis. Our own Justice Mary Peter Odili of the Supreme Court of Nigeria is next in line to succeed to the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria. We cannot by-pass His Lordship, the Honourable Justice Joy N. Akpughunum who has two more active years on the Bench and expect the Federal authorities to do justice to a tradition we are attempting to jettison.

SIGNED:
1. John Iyene Owubokiri
2. Ngozi O. Odukwe-Ighosevbe
3. Stephanie Ekpebulu-Harry
4. Mercy Horse Damina
5. Flora Ifode-Festus
6. Esther Mabadeje
7. Maxson Edirawa
8. Chibuzor Gladys
9. Yvonne Aimegheme
10 Monica Akinuli
11. Goma kalio Ohochukwu.

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