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Courts resume in Rivers as Wike swears-in Chief Judge

imageCourts in Rivers State have opened to entertain cases from litigants represented by their counsels 21 months after all courts in the state were closed on the heels of the strike embarked upon by the judiciary workers under the aegis of the Judiciary Staff Workers Union of Nigeria, JUSUN. The courts were opened after Governor Nyesom Wike swore-in the acting Chief Judge, Justice Daisy Okocha, at the executive chamber, at Government House, Port Harcourt.
The stalemate generated by the appointment of a chief judge also contributed to the closure of the courts. The immediate past Governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, had refused to appoint the judge of the high court, Justice Daisy Okocha, who was recommended by the National Judicial Council, NJC, in concert with section 271 (2) of the 1999 constitution (as altered).
Amaechi had instead appointed and sworn-in Justice Peter Agumagu, whom, prior to his appointment was the president customary court of Appeal. He was consequently suspended and issued a query by the NJC for breaching his oath of office by accepting the appointment without the recommendation of the NJC as required by the constitution.
In the absence of a chief judge to assign cases, the state government got the 7th House of Assembly to amend the state high court law of 2000 to enable the chief registrar to assign cases. Some courts in Rivers were torched by arsonists that made judiciary workers to embark on strike citing insecurity to their lives.
Governor Wike told the acting chief judge, Justice Okocha, and the acting president, customary court of appeal, Justice Christy Gabriel-Nwankwo, not to use their positions to victimize anyone. He urged them to carry everyone along their administration of justice in the state, adding, “You should do your utmost best to revive the state judiciary”.
He condemned the role played by some members of the state branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, the Rivers State Judicial Service Commission, the judiciary staff association for failing the state during the 21 months judicial crisis that led to the closure of the courts. Governor Wike assured that his administration will not starve the judiciary, maintaining that he would grant financial autonomy to the judiciary to enable it perform its duties without fear or favour.
He added: “I intend to grant financial autonomy to the judiciary to enable it function effectively. I am not saying this because I want you do my bidding. I will not interfere with the judiciary. I want our judiciary to be truly independent of the executive and the legislative arm of government. I want the judiciary to truly symbolize the last hope of the common man”.
In her acceptance speech, the acting chief judge, Justice Okocha said discipline, productivity, good behaviour and zero tolerance to corruption will be her watch word. She called for a synergy between the three arms of government in order to move the state forward. Justice Okocha appealed to Governor Wike to follow up the issue of financial autonomy from the federal allocation.
Expressing worry over the plight of the less privileged in the society and inmates in prisons Justice Okocha called for the establishment of a task force to decongest the prisons. She promised not to disappoint the people of Rivers State in her capacity as acting chief judge.
Addressing members of the NBA at the Chief Judge’s Ceremonial Court, Justice Okocha who described June 1, as a “new dawn” for the judiciary in the state requested all players in the administration of justice to come together to redeem the image of the legal profession in the state.

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