The Attorney General for the Federal and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, has assigned the Bayelsa State Chief Judge, Justice Kate Abiri, to swear in Rivers State Governor-elect, Nyesom Wike, on May 29.
In a statement on Tuesday, Mr. Adoke drew attention of the public to the to the existing vacuum in the office of the Chief Judge and the President of the Customary Court of Appeal in Rivers State which have made strict compliance with the provisions of Section 185(1-2) of the 1999 Constitution, impossible.
“It will be recalled that Chief Barr. Nyesom Wike, CON was declared the Governor-Elect of Rivers State following the gubernatorial and houses of assembly elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on 11th April 2015.
“It is therefore expected that he will be sworn into Office on 29th May 2015 in accordance with the provisions of section 185(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
In order to avert a likely constitutional crisis in the state, Mr. Adoke stated, “I have requested the Chief Judge of Bayelsa State to administer the oath of allegiance and oath of office on the governor-elect of Rivers State in accordance with section 185(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.”
That section of the constitution provides that the oath of allegiance and the oath of office shall be administered by the Chief Judge of the state or Grand Khadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the state, if any, or President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the state, if any, or the person for the time being respectively appointed to exercise the functions of any of those offices in any state.
Mr. Adoke urged members of the public and particularly the people of Rivers State to take note of the arrangement.
He also noted that the invitation of the Bayelsa State chief judge to administer the oath of allegiance and oath of office on Mr. Wike on May 29 is in accordance with the 1999 Constitution and should be respected by all.
The Rivers State judiciary has been engulfed in protracted crisis of interest which stalled the appointment of a new chief judge for the state after Justice Iche Ndu retired in August 2013.
After Mr. Ndu retired, the Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, and the National Judicial Council, NJC, have been locked in a disagreement over who should be appointed the state’s chief judge.
Following the provisions of Section 271 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, Mr. Amaechi had forwarded the name of the former President of the Customary Court of Appeal, Justice Peter Agumagu, to the NJC.
But the council refused to confirm Mr. Agumagu’s appointment and instead preferred Justice Daisy Okocha for the job.
The governor, however, insisted on his choice on the ground that Mr. Agumagu is the most senior High Court judge in the state.
While the controversy was raging, the National Judicial Council sent Mrs. Okocha’s name for confirmation to the National Assembly which had at the time taken over the functions of the Rivers State House of Assembly.
Irked by the action, Mr. Amaechi dragged the council to the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt and for the interpretation of Section 271 (3-5) of the constitution as regards the appointment of chief judge of the state.
On March 18, 2014, Justice Lambo Akanbi delivered judgment which showed that the NJC erred by recommending Mrs. Okocha for appointment to replace Justice Ndu.
Mr. Akanbi ruled that the NJC’s argument that Mrs. Okocha is the oldest judge of the Rivers State High Court and more qualified to be chief judge of the state because Mr. Agumagu belonged to a different arm of the judiciary, was wrong.
Based on the ruling of the court, the state house of assembly sat at Old Executive Council Chambers of Government House for the screening and confirmation of Mr. Agumagu as the substantive chief judge of the state.
Mr. Agumagu was immediately sworn in by the state governor in a move that angered the former Chief Justice of Nigeria and then NJC Chair, Justice Mariam Aloma Muktar.
The CJN immediately suspended Mr. Agumagu from parading himself or acting in the capacity of chief judge of Rivers State.
While Mr. Agumagu is still in court to challenge his suspension by the CJN, Rivers State has been robbed of a chief judge and the courts have also been shut as a result of attacks by unknown gunmen.
PREMIUM TIMES has learnt that for close to a year now, the Customary Court of Appeal, the High Courts and the Magistrate Courts in the state have been on a lock down.
It was this situation that perhaps, prompted the former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, O.C.J Okocha, to raise the alarm over impending constitutional crisis in the state.
Mr. Okocha, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, had argued that based on the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, only the state chief judge and the president of the Customary Court of Appeal or a Grand Khadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal can administer oaths on a governor-elect.