Law News
CJN decries continued closure of Rivers courts
Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed

Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed

THE new Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, has described as unacceptable the continued closure of the courts in Rivers State.

Mohammed slammed the Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi,for circumventing seniority in the appointment of a new chief judge for the state, which he said was the cause of the closure of the courts.

The CJN asked the Nigerian Bar Association to intervene in the efforts to reopen the courts in Rivers and put an end to the suffering of litigants.

Mohammed, according to a statement by his media aide, Mr. Ahuraka Isah, spoke in Abuja during a visit to him by a delegation of the NBA, led by the association’s President, Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN).

He said, “The perpetual closure of courts in River State is unacceptable. The NJC has never said governors can’t appoint state chief judges.

“But the violation of the principle of checks and balances by the state governor in Rivers State as enshrined in the constitution for the appointment and disciplining of erring chief judges or judges is equally unacceptable. Seniority is part and parcel of the legal profession.

“To just appoint a chief judge from any position without recourse to seniority arrangement is an invitation to anarchy in the system, just as we are now witnessing in Rivers State.”

The CJN, who was said to have told his visitors that he would continue from where his predecessor, Justice Aloma Mukhtar (retd.), stopped in the cleansing of the judiciary, also accused lawyers of double-standard in the fight to cleanse the bench of its rot.

The CJN said, “I want to use this opportunity to urge the Bar to put the interest of the system far and above the individuals.

“Imagine this scenario; you in the Bar decry the rot on the bench, calling for disciplining and cleansing of the judiciary by weeding out the bad eggs on the bench. Yet, you are the first to jump to the court to seek for a restraining order on the National Judicial Council to stop it from the investigation and trial of a judge based on a petition brought against the judge before the council. How then is the principle of fair hearing sustained?”

In response, the NBA President said he had personally met with   Amaechi over the continued closure of Rivers courts.

Alegeh said Amaechi was disposed to a consensus candidate, on the condition that the NJC would withdraw its letter appointing Justice Daisy Okocha as administrative judge of the state.

As an alternative, Alegeh suggested that a Justice of the Court of Appeal could be appointed to head Rivers State judiciary for two years.

But Justice Mohammed expressed concern over Alegeh’s suggestion and reiterated his call on the NBA to use its clout and contact to tackle the problem in Rivers State judiciary to mitigate the sufferings of the litigants and lawyers in that state.

The CJN also asked the lawyers to find a way of addressing the step taken by the National Assembly in sending the Constitution Amendment Bill to state Houses of Assembly for ratification without giving the Bar and the bench the opportunity to make an input on matters concerning the judiciary.

He said, “There are a lot of items for amendment concerning the judiciary. Some cases ought not to be remitted to Court of Appeal or Supreme Court that are now causing excess baggage in these courts.

“The Supreme Court is still trying to clear the 2002 and 2003 appeals not to talk of recent ones. Yet you lawyers are equally not helping matters by not advising your clients correctly. Just yesterday a panel was inundated with appeals on who were candidates and who were not in the 2007 and 2011 governorship elections. Of what use are these appeals when another party primaries are being conducted now.”

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