Nyesom Wike’s inauguration
ALL is set for the inauguration tomorrow of the elected governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike. However, the circumstance of his taking the oath of allegiance and the oath of office as the state’s chief executive has been engulfed in controversy, following the directive of the Federal Government that the Chief Judge of neighbouring Bayelsa State should administer the oaths. The political and judicial intrigues thereby triggered as well as the endless crisis in Rivers State are, of course, unfortunate. Although the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke based government’s directive on the absence of a Chief Judge in Rivers State, the lacuna thus created at such an auspicious occasion has clearly engendered a constitutional crisis. This, however, should not be allowed to threaten a fragile democracy. Reason should prevail even as much as the law; Wike should take the oath of office tomorrow.
It is incumbent on all parties concerned to bring sanity and reason to bear on this quasi-political and quasi-judicial problem. Rivers State has suffered enough in the hands of the political gladiators who have even unwittingly caused the shedding of innocent blood before, during and after the elections and it is high time the state moved on. So far, the Rivers’ contestants have presented themselves more as war-mongers than as gentlemen they ought to be. They should be exemplars of peace who want the very best for their people.
The Rivers scenario is unusual, as the constitution does not envisage a vacuum or a situation whereby there would be no state CJ to swear in an in-coming governor. While this presents another interesting development in constitution making and a reminder of possible defects in the document, it is also a pointer to human failings in its implementation. For this controversy could have been avoided had the two parties exercised necessary restraint over the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge for the state.
The divergent opinions of lawyers on the issue have only aggravated the confusion, suggesting, perhaps, a need to tackle it as a national issue. Some have argued, for instance, that swearing in of a governor is a political matter, not necessarily a judicial action. In other words, it is a political impasse that deserves a political solution. It is even an irony, however, that such crisis is unfolding in a state where the outgoing governor himself emerged through a Supreme Court decision after much acrimony over the conduct of party primaries.
The genesis of the current imbroglio in Rivers as a state without a Chief Judge or a President of the Customary Court of Appeal (CCA) since last year is in the disagreement between Governor Rotimi Amaechi and the National Judicial Council (NJC) over Amaechi’s choice of Justice Peter Agumagu (President of the CCA) as the CJ, a choice faulted by the NJC which recommended another candidate. Agumagu is currently in court for his ban from acting in the capacity by the NJC which alleged breaching his oath of office.
To avoid the vacuum in the run-down to tomorrow’s inauguration, Adoke issued the directive, citing Section 185 (2) of the constitution, which provides that “the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office shall be administered by the CJ of the State or the Grand Khadi of the Shariah Court of Appeal of the state, if any, or the President of the CCA of the state, if any, or the person for the time being respectively appointed to exercise the functions of any of the offices in any state.”
Amid questions on the legal propriety of this interpretation, it is without doubt that if Wike is not sworn in, a dangerous precedent may be set that could lead to security breaches in the country. Nonetheless, it is desirable in the future, to resolve whether the Attorney-General is the right officer of state to give such directive to a state CJ, or whether it is the responsibility of the Chief Justice of the Federation. If the AG has no such power unless the matter was referred to him judicially, as has been contended by some legal pundits, the question then is did he weigh the options before his actions? Also, has Adoke decided to apply a political solution to a constitutional problem?
The NJC certainly should share in the blame for its failure to handle the judicial crises in the state well. The body played along as an interested party in the choice of the state CJ or even an acting CJ which is uncalled for, being an advisory body in such instances. This is another lesson of history.
Political developments in Rivers State are not amusing in any sense; neither are the key actors exemplars of statesmanship. They need to cultivate a spirit of tolerance and understanding while not being a bad influence on other politicians. The nation deserves a forward movement, following the successful conduct of the 2015 elections. The change Nigeria needs includes a change of attitude by all.