A PROVERBIAL adage says
when oil touches a finger; all
others are directly or indirectly
affected. This is true in
the light of the current political
crisis that had continued to rock Rivers
state. All sectors including the judiciary
have been dragged into it. Ordinarily, the
judiciary regarded as the last hope of the
ordinary man is expected to be independent
but recent developments in the state
had shown that it has been soiled by the
major players in the crisis.
As the tenure of Justice Iche Ndu draws
closer, the National Judicial Commission,
NJC, nominated a senior member of the
bench, Justice Daizy Okocha, as one to
take over as the chief judge of the state.
When the news broke out, many in the
state received it with a profound joy for
the reason that, if sworn-in, she would be
the first female chief judge since the creation
of the state.
Secondly, as one who grew up from the
practice as a lawyer, magistrate and has
had undented years as a judge, she would
raise the judiciary to a greater height.
More so, as a judge, she had delivered
judgments on controversial cases including
the murder of a law lecturer of the
Rivers state University of Science and
Technology, late Barr. Iyaobu Nemieboka,
some years ago. The judge threw away sentiments
and sentenced the accused, a female
student of the law faculty.
So when her nomination was made
known, many including lawyers and FIDA
beat their chests in appreciation. But
on Monday, August 19, the events that
played out at the thanksgiving service
of the retired chief judge, Justice Ndu at
St. Cyprian’s Church, Port Harcourt, according
to political observers were clear
indication that the state executive was no
more with him and could come up with
In the first instance, there was no presence
of the state government at the occasion.
Many Rivers people felt shocked
by this development which was like an
abandonment of a man appointed as chief
judge by Governor Rotimi Amaechi on
November 1, 2001. However, he was honoured
by other prominent Nigerians including
chief judges from different states
of the federation.
As tongues started wagging, information
has it that the deputy governor, Engr.
Tele Ikuru was initially asked to represent
the governor, but when it became clear
that some of the key players of anti-Amaechi
group namely, Chief Nyesom Wike,
among others were present in the church,
arrangements changed. It was like a sole
affair of Justice Ndu and his invitees.
Also, at the valedictory court session
held at the state judiciary, the situation
was the same. The attorney-general and
commissioner for justice, Barr Worgu
Boms who was expected to deliver an address
as the chief legal officer in the state
was absent. Others like the president of
the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr.
Okey Wali condemned the practice where
judicial officers’ appointments were being
politicised, adding that NBA would ensure
that those appointed were men and women
with integrity to stand upright in the
face of the prevailing corruption.
The president disclosed that to tackle
what he called judicial corruption, a committee
had been set up to investigate
those involved both at the Bar and Bench.
He added that currently some legal practitioners
had been banned from practice
for some years over corrupt practices.
Based on the nomination of NJC, Justice
Okocha would eventually become the new
chief judge, Mr. Wali expressed the hope
that she would take the judiciary to greater
heights. Now that another person has
been appointed, the NBA president might
Apart from him, most of the lawyers at
the court session would be taken aback
with the turn of events. This is because as
Justice Okocha was called up to present
the gifts on behalf of the judges, there was
thunderous applause among the lawyers
at the venue, with the understanding that
she would become the new chief judge,
which had been given wider publicity particularly
in the local tabloids.
Equally, some of those who heard of the
appointment of Justice Peter Agumagu as
the new acting chief judge said; “We heard
that NJC has nominated Justice Okocha
to be appointed as the new chief judge.
How come the sudden change?” Others
argued that the governor has the discretion
to appoint anybody of his choice.
They cited the case of Justice Salami who
was not re-instated despite the recommendation
of NJC, contending that the
precedent had been set. The question is if
that be the case, what is the weight of the
In its reaction, Rivers state lawyers in
Abuja described the action of the governor
as a slap on the NJC who had taken
into cognisance certain judicial procedures
before arriving at its nomination.
According to the chairman of the League,
Mr. Timi Briggs, the NJC met and recommended
the appointment of Justice Daizy
Okocha alongside other judges from other
jurisdictions whose matters were brought
for consideration. He said a letter was subsequently
written and forwarded to the
state governor, communicating its decision
so as to enable him forward the name
to the state House of Assembly (now National
Assembly) for ratification.
The chairman said: “Rather than do that
or allow the recommended candidate to
function for the job”, he alleged that the
governor had never hidden his dislike
for Justice Okocha, who lawyers have
described as tough and straight without
bending the rules.
“Even though Amaechi preferred Agumagu
to Okocha in appointing a CJ for the
state, the decision of the NJC is almost
sacrosanct and must be respected. This is
the minimum that Amaechi needs to do to
show that he is a democratic and has no
ulterior motive,” Mr. Briggs said, adding
that it was not proper for Justice Agumagu
to hold dual positions of President of
the state customary court of appeal and
acting new chief judge at the same time.
The decision of the governor has undoubtedly
generated tension within the
polity with pro-Amaechi group including
Politics in Rivers Judiciary By Kio Nimengoka, Port Harcourt
the state attorney-general and commissioner
for justice, Mr. Boms defending the
action. However, others like state People’s
Democratic Party, PDP condemned the
action, contending that it was capable of
heating up the crisis in the state.
It would be recalled that when the retired
chief judge, Justice Ndu was appointed
in 2001 by Governor Amaechi,
a similar tension was generated, because
many argued that he was the sixth on the
line of judges in the state, since the constitution
allows the most senior to be considered.
It created ‘’bad blood’’ among judicial
officers in the state. At the end, the
governor’s appointment was not reversed.
So how long shall we go on with this trend
that had made politics to decide on every
issue in governance, thereby throwing to
the abyss the professional standards in
the legal profession? One may ask.
Members of the Inner Bar appear uncomfortable
with the appointment of judicial
officers based on politics. Speaking on
behalf of the members at the recent valedictory
court session in Port Harcourt,
held in honour of the retired chief judge,
Mr. I. A. Adedipe (SAN) spoke against the
development and called for a reverse.
Those of anti-Amaechi group contended
that the choice of the governor might have
been based on recent decided judicial pronouncements
in the state. They gave the
instance of Justice Iyaye Lamikanra that
restrained the state judicial commission
set up by the governor from carrying out
its functions. Also, the judgment of Justice
Adolphus Enebeli where he turned
down the reliefs sought by the Speaker,
Rt. Hon. Otelemaba Amachree of restraining
the police from arresting him.
In all these, they argued that if Justice
Okocha had been appointed, she would
not be prepared to compromise her position
while discharging her duties, more so
when the retired CJ had advised them to
be fearless in delivering judgments; ensure
that the excesses of the executive are
minimised and that they should not allow
anybody to mar their career