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Court adjourns suit on Acting Rivers CJ’s appointment to April 15

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A SUIT by Justice Daisy Okocha seeking to compel the Rivers State governor to appoint the most senior judge from the state high court as acting Chief Judge pending the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge, suffered a setback yesterday due to an application for extension of time by the governor.

   Justice Okocha, whom the National Judicial Council had in 2013 recommended as the Chief Judge of Rivers State, but was rejected by Governor Chibuike Amaechi, in suit FHC/PHC/CS/03/2015, is seeking an order from the court to compel the state governor to declare her, being the most senior judge of the High Court of Rivers state to perform the functions of a Chief Judge in acting capacity.

   The matter which came up Monday at the Federal High Court presided by Justice Lambo Akanbi, was adjourned 15 April, 2015 following a motion for extension of time by counsel to the governor, Lateef Fagbemi, to enable him serve the National Judicial Council (NJC) which is the first defendant in the suit. Other defendants are the Rivers State Judicial Service Commission (second defendant) while the Rivers governor is the third defendant. 

    After listening to motion brought by counsel to the governor, Justice Akanbi, said the court decided to grant the motion to enable the governor serve the NJC, which is the first defendant in the suit. 

   The crisis rocking Rivers State judiciary dates back to 2013 when the NJC recommended Justice Okocha as the next Chief Judge of Rivers State after the retirement of Justice Ichechi Nwenenda Ndu in August 2013. But the State governor, Amaechi had rejected her nomination, and instead appointed Justice Peter Agumagu, then President of the Customary Court of Appeal, who later was sworn in as substantive Chief Judge of Rivers State. And a few days afterwards, he was suspended by the NJC, leaving the state without a chief judge since.

   Justice Okocha in her suit urged the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, to restrain the Rivers State governor, the NJC and others from appointing any other person as substantive Chief Judge for the state.

   She asked the court to make a declaration that the governor of Rivers State lacked powers under the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to appoint a Chief Judge for the state without recommendation of the NJC. Similarly, she also urged the court to declare that it is the NJC that is constitutionally empowered to grant recommendations of a Rivers State Judicial Service Commission that is properly constituted in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. 

   She implored the court to declare that the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice of the state, who is the 5th defendant and Chief Registrar of High Court of Rivers (the 6th defendant) have no constitutional powers to assume the duties and office of the Chairman of the Rivers state judicial service commission. 

According to her, a properly constituted Rivers State Judicial Service Commission must have the Chief Judge of the state or acting Chief Judge of the state as chairman.

   Justice Okocha is therefore seeking an order of the court to restrain the Rivers State governor who has vehemently opposed her recommendation by NJC from appointing another person other than herself as the Acting Chief Judge of Rivers state. In same vein, she wants the court to restrain the 2nd to 6th defendants from stopping her to discharge her functions as the most senior Judge of the High Court of Rivers State.

   In addition, Justice Okocha, has also asked the court to restrain the 1st to 6th defendants or by their servants, agents or privies from selecting, nominating, recommending or putting forward any person for appointment as Chief Judge of Rivers state based on the advise of the Rivers State Judicial Service Commission as presently constituted.

   She insisted that the can only be done under the headship of the acting chief judge as Chairman who must be the most senior judge of the High Court of Rivers state as constitutionally stipulated, pending the determination of her suit



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