Crisis rocks Imo State Judicial service commission.

As a corollary to the present crisis rocking the Imo State Judicial Service Commission, legal pundits are alleging that the continued stay of Justice P. I. Okpara as Acting President of the Imo State Customary Court of Appeal for more than ten months now without confirmation is unconstitutional.

This is the view of some legal icons recently expressed to our reporters in Owerri. They attributed the said constitutional blunder to the alleged refusal of government to obey a court order ordering the re-instatement of formerly sacked members of the Imo State Judicial Service Commission. The re-instated commission members are the former President of the Imo State Customary Court of Appeal, Rtd. Justice Obasi Iwuagwu, Pioneer Vice Chancellor of the Imo State University Prof. Thomas Ndubizu (O.O.N.), former Majority Leader of the Imo House of Assembly Hon. Nkem Nwankwo, and Barr. Chinedu Igwe a legal luminary.

It could also be recalled that Justice A.B.C. Egu retired last year as the President of the Imo State Customary Court of Appeal. Justice Okpara as the most senior judge left in the court was appointed in line with Section 281 (4) of the country’s constitution as the Acting President of the court but it is being speculated that due to the instability in the Imo State Judicial Service Commission, Justice Okpara has not been confirmed after acting for the same post for more than ten months now.

Section 281(4) of the country’s constitution provides that: ‘If the office of President of Customary Court of Appeal of a State is vacant…until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the function of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the Governor of the state shall appoint the most senior judge of the Customary Court of Appeal of the State to perform those function’.

It could be re-called that on the 27th June this year, the High Court in Owerri declared that it was wrong to sack the members and that the embattled members be re-instated. However, feelers from many quarters are saying that the embattled commission members are not yet functioning in office. Incidentally, it was also discovered that the new commission members appointed to replace the formerly sacked ones have also tactically ceased to act as members of the commission. This some say may be because the appointment was declared illegal in the judgment. The implication of all these is that as at press time, there is no properly constituted Judicial Service Commission in Imo State and nobody knows how long this situation will linger. The irony in the whole saga is that it is said that even the Imo Chief Judge who is also the Chairman of the commission has not called a meeting of the commission since the sacked members were re-instated by the court.

It should be noted that Section Part II Third Schedule of the country’s constitution stipulates that the Judicial Service Commission of a State advises the National Judicial Council on whom to recommend to the Governor to be appointed President of Customary Court of Appeal. However, critics are saying that the absence of a properly constituted Judicial Service Commission in Imo State is stalling the confirmation of Justice Okpara as the substantive President of Customary Court of Appeal in state and the appointment of new High Court judges in the state.

However, sources close to the Chief Judge claimed that the National Judicial Council may have decided to extend the period Justice Okpara is to act as the Customary Court of Appeal President of the State since it is the only authority that can recommend for the extension of the period.

‘Section 281(5) of the constitution provides that ‘Except on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, an appointment pursuant to subsection (4) (the post of President of Customary Court of a State), shall cease to have effect after the expiration of  3 months from the date of such appointment, and the Governor shall not re-appoint a person whose appointment has elapsed’.

But when our reporters asked some of the members of the commission, they claimed ignorant of any such recommendation.

Legal pundits have acclaimed that with the perceived non existence of a properly constituted Judicial Service Commission in Imo State, the state judiciary is now in a state of hopelessness.

Incidentally, apart from the roles a State Judicial Service Commission plays in the appointment of judges, there are other duties the commission does to the judiciary as provided in It could also be recalled that Justice A.B.C. Egu retired last year as the President of the Imo State Customary Court of Appeal. Justice Okpara as the most senior judge left in the court was appointed in line with Section 281 (4) of the country’s constitution as the Acting President of the court but it is being speculated that due to the instability in the Imo State Judicial Service Commission, Justice Okpara has not been confirmed after acting for the same post for more than ten months now.

Section 281 of the country’s constitution provides that: ‘If the office of President of Customary Court of Appeal of a State is vacant…until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the function of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the Governor of the state shall appoint the most senior judge of the Customary Court of Appeal of the State to perform those function’.

It is said that with the non-existence of a properly constituted Judicial Service Commission in Imo State, most of the functions of a State Judicial Service Commission is not being performed. This some critics say is disastrous for the arm of government commonly known as ‘the last hope of the common man’.

Part II Third Schedule of the country’s constitution stipulates the duties of a State Judicial Service Commission. They include appointment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, welfare and control over High Court Judges and Judges of the Customary Court of Appeal, Chief Registrar and Deputy Chief Registrar of the High Court and Customary Court of Appeal, magistrates, judges and members of Customary Courts and all other members of the staff of the judicial service of the state.

The Nigerian Bar Association has also been berated for its alleged passiveness in the whole saga. However, many have called on government to resolve this logjam so as to avoid anarchy in this arm of government.

 

 

Written by: Romanus Eke

 

 

 

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