Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia
The judiciary in Abia State is in crisis as the state Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has been factionalised with the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Theresa Uzokwe and the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Umeh Kalu, supporting the different factions.
Trouble started last year when the state Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, reconstituted the SJC acting on the resolution of the state House of Assembly which investigated a petition against the commission and found the members to be “incompetent.”
However, members of the dissolved SJC rejected the dissolution of the body, charging that the state governor lacked the power to dissolve the body hence the members of the dissolved SJC have refused to go.
Speaking with journalists yesterday in Umuahia, the spokesman of the dissolved SJC, Kalu Agbayi, lamented that what was happening in Abia State presently was an attempt to emasculate the judiciary by the executive through the Ministry of Justice.
“What we are witnessing today is interference and blatant encroachment on the judiciary,” he said, adding that “the level of antagonism is so high that we’re denied our allowances.”
Kalu insisted that the SJC reconstituted by the governor was illegal because “if the chief judge is not part of the SJC, that body is unknown to the law.”
He said despite a court order restraining Ikpeazu from reconstituting the SJC, the government still went ahead to appoint and inaugurate new members of SJC and accorded the body recognition with the attorney general presiding as chairman.
But in reaction to the allegation, the attorney general and commissioner for justice, Chief Kalu told journalists that the dissolution and reconstitution of the SJC was done in line with the constitutional provision.
He said as the chief law officer of the state, it was his duty to ensure that any action taken by the governor was within the ambit of the law, adding that “the governor has the constitutional power to dissolve the SJC” in line with Section 201 of the 1999 Constitution.
Chief Kalu specifically blamed the state chief judge for the problem in the judiciary, noting that what she “has done is to appropriate the JSC to herself and make the office moribund.”
He said though members of the SJC were appointed by the governor the commission is constitutionally required to be independent hence the CJ has no right to appropriate the SJC.
He faulted the claims by the members of the dissolved SJC that a court order was ignored, noting that “the court order is worthless” because it was an ex parte order which had expired within 14 days and was not renewed by the judge that issued the order.
The attorney general and commissioner for justice regretted the crisis in the Abia judiciary, saying that it has affected the promotion and transfer of magistrates while the Customary Court of Appeal has been rendered moribund as new cases are not coming up.