Port Harcourt News: NJC suspends Rivers Chief Judge, Agumagu

The National Judicial Council on Thursday suspended the Rivers State Chief Judge, Peter Agumagu.

Mr. Agumagu was suspended for allegedly going against the Council’s directive that no judge in Rivers should accept to be acting chief judge of the state, based on Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s appointment.

Mr. Agumagu was first appointed the acting Chief Judge of the State by Mr. Amaechi last year.

His appointment was, however, in February, voided by a Federal High Court presided by Justice Lambo Akanbi.

Mr. Akanbi had ruled that by the provisions of the law, only the most senior judge in the state judiciary can be appointed as Acting Chief Judge. Mr. Agumagu was then not the most senior judge in the state.

The NJC, the highest decision making organ of the Nigerian judiciary, had recommended Justice Daisy Okocha, the most senior judge in the Rivers judiciary, as the Chief Judge of the State. The NJC made the recommendation to Governor Amaechi.

Mr. Amaechi, however, jettisoned the NJC’s recommendation and, based on the state judicial council recommendation, appointed Mr. Agumagu as the state’s chief judge. He and the state government then filed a suit at the Federal High Court, to, among others, determine if the state governor must do the bidding of the NJC in choosing a chief judge.

In his ruling on the matter on March 18, Justice Lambo ruled that the NJC’s recommendation was not binding on the governor.

“With greatest respect to the National Judicial Commission, who is my employer, I cannot allow the argument of the defence counsel, that the governor must accept the recommendation of the NJC,” the judge ruled.

“The body that is most suitable to make recommendation of a nominee of a chief judge of the state is the state Judicial Service Commission (JSC), because they have local knowledge of the most suitable candidate, than the National Judicial Commission.”

Mr. Lambo, in the ruling, said his judgment was not contradictory to his earlier one in February. He said the law states different conditions for appointing an acting chief judge and a chief judge of a state.

Mr. Lambo also ruled that according to Nigerian law, it was not mandatory that the most senior judge be appointed the state’s Chief Judge. He said the judge to be considered, must however have spent at least 10 years on the bench, a qualification met by Mr. Agumagu, who was then the President of the Rivers Customary Court of Appeal.

Following the court ruling, Mr. Amaechi on March 18 swore in Mr. Agumagu as the state’s chief judge.

For giving such a ruling, sources told PREMIUM TIMES that the NJC also queried Mr. Akanbi.

It is not clear how the Rivers State Government will react to the NJC’s suspension of Justice Agumagu; or whether the judge would cease to act as the state’s chief judge.

The State’s Commissioner of Information, Ibim Semenitari, did not return calls or respond to a text message sent to her. source

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