Few things are as simple as the appointment of a Chief Judge of the High Court of a state. But in Nigeria, or more precisely, in Rivers State, few things are never as simple as they should be.
The Constitutional provisions are very clear on the requirements of appointing a Chief Judge of the state. All it requires is that the Governor of the State appoints a candidate recommended by the National Judicial Council and confirmed by the state’s Assembly. But in the crisis ridden Rivers state, the governor who has long been waging a war against the Judiciary of his state, has refused to follow the recommendations of the NJC.
Instead, at a secret event early on Tuesday morning August 20, 2013, he handpicked and swore in a personally chosen candidate PMC Agumagu, a judge of the customary Court of the state, as the new Chief Judge of the state. This shadowy event was not attended by any lawyer or judge, nor was it conducted with the approval of the NJC or the legislature. The judicial crisis in the state started due to differences of opinion between the governor and the retiring Chief Judge. In anger, the governor had withheld funds from the judiciary of the State for over four months.
The current crisis is a new attempt by the governor to impose his will on the judiciary by handpicking a Chief Judge and therefore take control of the judiciary violating the cardinal principle of judicial independence and separation of powers.
By law, in the absence of a recommendation by the NJC, the eldest judge of the High Court is empowered to act as Chief Judge for three months.
The state’s current eldest judge, Justice Daisy Okocha is also the judge recommended by the NJC as the Chief Judge and which the governor has disregarded.