Former President of the Imo State Customary Court of Appeal, Rtd. Justice Obasi Iwuagwu, Majority Leader of Imo House of Assembly Hon. Nkem Nwankwo, pioneer Vice Chancellor of the Imo State University, Prof. Thomas Indubizu and Barr. Chinedu Igwe have sued the Imo State Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha and the Imo House of Assembly in an Owerri high court challenging their removal as members of the Imo State Judicial Service Commission.
In an originating summons filed on their behalf by their counsel, Barrister Declan Madu, the above claimants who were former members of the Imo State Judicial Service Commission are asking the court to declare as unconstitutional, their removal as members of the commission by the Imo State Governor when their tenures as members of the commission had not expired. They are also claiming that Governor Okorocha does not have right to suspend all the activities of the commission and to replace them with new appointees. Consequently, they are asking for a perpetual injunction restraining the Governor, his servants or agents from interfering with their functions as members of the said commission until the expiration of their tenure. Accordingly, they are relying on Sections 199, 201, 202 and 197 (c) the country’s Constitution.
Section 199 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that the tenure of a member of the State Judicial Service Commission shall be five years. Also, section 201 provides that the chairman or members of the state Judicial Service Commission ‘…shall only be removed from office by the Governor…acting on an address supported by two-third majority of the House of Assembly of the state praying that he be removed for inability to discharge the functions of the office (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or misconduct’. On its own part, Section 202 provides that in the exercise of its powers and functions that the State Judicial Service Commission ‘shall not be subject to the direction and control of any authority of person’.
Further in suit, the claimants are alleging that in line with the Doctrine of Separation of Powers as provided in the above cited section 202 of the constitution, that a letter from the Secretary to the Government of Imo State directing the state Chief Judge to put on hold all the activities of the commission is an executive interference with the powers and functions of the judiciary and therefore should be declared unconstitutional. On the other hand, the claimants are alleging that from their letters of appointment their tenure as members of the commission have not expired. The claimants are also alleging that since none of them had been found guilty of inability to discharge the functions of the office (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or misconduct’ as provided in above cited section 201 of the Constitution, that their membership of the commission was still valid.
Joined as co-defendants in the suit include, the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, the state Chief Judge who is the Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission, the State Judicial Service Commission and the Imo House of Assembly.
However, when the matter was called up recently for hearing, counsel for the defendants raised a preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court in hearing the matter. However, the court ruled that the defendants should file their statement of defence and possibly raise the said objection therein.
It could be recalled that in a letter dated 4th of August, 2007, Ex-Governor Ikedi Ohakim approved the appointed of Rtd Justice Iwuagwu and Prof Ndubuizu as statutory members of the Imo State Judicial Service Commission in accordance with Section of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). Their appointment took effect from 29th July, 2010. Accordingly, Hon Nkem and Barr. Igwe were also appointed members of the commission as provided in Section 199 (a) (c) of the aforesaid constitution to a secure tenure of five years. According to their letters of appointment also made available to the press, there appointment took effect from 29th July 2010 and 19 October 2007 respectively.
However, on 15th November last year, the Secretary Government of the Imo State Prof A.G. Anwuka, wrote to the state Chief Judge directing him to suspended all the activities of the Judicial Service Commission. Subsequently, the Imo House of Assembly unanimously passed a motion urging the Governor to remove the claimants from office and replace them with a new set of appointees. They also urged the Governor to pay the removed members salaries and allowances for their unexpired tenure. Consequently, the Governor has appointed new members who have long replaced the claimants.
However, there have been mix feelings from many citizens of the state over the high rate of litigations that have followed the removal of public servants in the state who have not served out their tenures. Some of them they say, include the Governor’s removal of Local Government Chairmen and councilors, chairmen and members of statutory commissions, corporations, boards etc. However, some opined that with the way the Governor emerged during last year elections, they had thought that by now, the Governor would have completely stepped into the shoes of the late Odumegwu Ojukwu whom the Igbos saw as a symbol of unity in Igbo land and carried everybody along. They said that he was already doing well especially in the area of infrastructural development, education etc but should drop some policies they considered arbitrary like the relocation of the Imo State University, removal of public officers with statutory fixed term of office etc. These they say, are raising eyebrows, causing anxieties and are trying to make him unpopular.