By Anayo Okoli. UMUAHIA
THE crisis rocking the Abia State Judiciary Service Commission, ABSJSC, has deepened with two factions emerging and claiming to be the authentic body to run the commission. While one faction is loyal to the State Chief Judge, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, who is the chairman of the Commission, the other faction owes its allegiance to the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Umeh Kalu, SAN.
The crisis has left the commission with over 70 staff almost moribund as no serious activities are going on there.
Both the Chief Judge and the Attorney-General are statutory members of the Commission. But there is no love-lust between the two over the running of the affairs of the commission.
When Vanguard visited the commission Thursday, the staff were looking dejected. The conference room was under lock and key but a peep from the widow showed that the conference room for the use of the members was covered with dusts for lack of use.
Workers of the commission said that the secretary, Mr. Lawrence Okite, who is loyal to the Chief Judge, has the key to the office. The crisis has degenerated to the level that the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Kalu, accused the Chief Judge of “trying to have the commission in her kitty”, while the faction supporting the Chief Judge in turn accused the Commissioner of “not only encroaching but interfering” in the running of both the Judiciary and the commission.
Trouble started last November when the State House of Assembly summoned both the commission and the Attorney-General over a petition against a Grade 1 Magistrate Court who had over stayed her retirement age but was not retired by the commission. After deliberating on the petition, the House indicted the commission and recommended to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to dissolve the commission and reconstitute it. The Governor accepted the recommendation of the House, dissolved and reconstituted it with new members.
But members of the dissolved commission felt aggrieved and approached an Umuahia High Court and obtained a Ex-parte Order restraining the Governor, the Attorney-General, Abia House of Assembly, the Chief Judge and the Commission from taking any action until hearing of the Motion on Notice. The Order was made on December 5, 2016 by Justice A. C. Chioma.
Since then there has been serious lull in the activities of the commission as the both parties have continued to meet separately. While the members dissolved by the Governor and who went to Court meet at the High Court with the alleged support of the Chief Judge, the newly appointed members meet elsewhere with also alleged support of the Attorney-General.
Addressing reporters yesterday on the issue, the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Umeh Kalu, SAN, said that the dissolved commission remained dissolved and that the Governor has reconstituted a new commission.
According to him, the Court Order with the other party “is worthless” because according to him, the new members have been reconstituted before the Order was made, arguing that “you cannot restrain an action that has already been done”.
However, the other parties disputed his position. According to a senior lawyer and a member of the dissolved members, Augusto Kanu, the commissioner was economical with the truth. He said that the Governor has not reconstituted the commission, saying that the last two of the new appointees were cleared by the House in March, insisting that their Court Order was valid; hence the Chief Judge obeyed and refused to be meeting with the new members until the court resolved the issue.
“Nobody is questioning the authority of the Governor to dissolve, but the Constitution says remove not dissolve. The Constitution makes provision for removal not dissolution and for you to be removed, the person will be given opportunity to defend himself.
The Judiciary is not run by Ministry of Justice. What we are experiencing here is interference. Lies are being told against the Judiciary. The level of antagonism is such that we are being denied our allowances while the other people are being paid.
“There would be no Judicial Service Commission without the Chief Judge being there as Chairman. So whatever they do is illegal”, they claimed.
But Kalu maintained that all due process was followed in dissolving the commission, as the Governor acted on the recommendation of the House of Assembly as prescribed by the Constitution.
The problem, according to him was that the Chief Judge wants to appropriate the Commission to her office. He said that he has worked with five different Chief Judges in his nine years as Attorney- General and they had ran the Commission from its office not from the Chief Judge’s office.
“The way forward is let us apply the letters of Constitution. JSC is not an extension of Chief Judge’s office. It is an executive body; all appointments are made by the Governor. But the Chief Judge wants to annex the office to her office”, the Attorney-General alleged.