Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, yesterday witnessed a flurry of political activities as the anti-Governor Chibuike Amaechi protesters took to the streets in reaction against the amendment of the state High Court law.
The state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also said it rejected the new law, insisting that it was unconstitutional and politicisation of the judiciary.
This came as students and youth leaders in the state said Amaechi was on the right track in fighting what they described as impunity of the National Judicial Council (NJC) in appointing Justice Daisy Okocha as administrative judge of the state.
The protesters, mostly members of the PDP and Grassroots Development Initiative (GDI) grounded business activities around the Judiciary Complex and adjoining roads, insisting that Justice Okocha should be allowed to head the state judiciary.
The protest which started at about 6a.m. lasted for about three hours with the protesters displaying various placards with inscriptions: ‘Rivers people support NJC decision’, ‘APC wants to destroy Rivers state’, ‘Amaechi leave Daisy Okocha alone’, ‘Amaechi came by law, he will leave by law’ and ‘Amaechi wants to pocket judiciary,’ among others.
Addressing the protesters who marched from the Judiciary Complex at Station Road down to Government House main gate, a member of the Federal House of Representatives representing Obio/Akpor Federal Constituency, Hon. Kingsley Chindah, said there was no lacuna in the law of the state to warrant the government to have amended it to empower the Chief Registrar to take up the responsibilities of the Chief Judge of the state.
He said: “We are completely behind the NJC decision. We are ready to do everything legal to ensure that the state government complies with the decision of the council. We don’t have any lacuna in our law. So, nobody can force a Chief Registrar to take over the responsibility of the Chief Judge when we have the most senior judge of the High Court already.”
Also speaking, another member of the House of Representatives representing Port Harcourt Federal Constituency I, Hon. Ken Chikere, said he was surprised why the governor continued to resist the appointment of Okocha as the substantive Chief Judge of the state.
The PDP, in its reaction through a statement issued by the state Chairman, Chief Felix Obuah, said: “The purported amendment of some sections of the state High Court rules and the hasty signing into law in the midnight by Amaechi, is highly condemnable, a rape on democracy and a premeditated effort to lord it over the judiciary which is the third arm of government that is as important and indispensable as the executive thereby dragging it into partisan politics.”
He said: “The PDP avers that constitutionally, the Chief Registrar, who is not a judicial officer, cannot by a state law be vested with the authority to perform functions inextricably connected with judicial duties, such as the assignment of cases to judicial officers.”
Meanwhile, student leaders in the state have come out in support of Amaechi and the amendment to the High Court law.
The student and youth leaders, under the aegis of Joint Student and Youths Community Stakeholders, said they were not happy with the delay of justice in the state occasioned by the crisis in the judiciary.
In a communiqué issued at the end of meeting in Port Harcourt yesterday and signed by Assistant Secretary General of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Zone B, Lah Amabu, the students said: “We reject the action of the NJC in appointing an administrative chief judge in the state. This is alien and not provided for in the constitution of Nigeria.
In his reaction, former President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief O.C.J. Okocha, described the law as illegal, adding that it was ridiculous that the State House of Assembly would complete all processes for passing a law within one day and the governor assents to it the same day.
He said the law would be declared unconstitutional, null and void when challenged in court.
Okocha said: “It is ridiculous that the chief registrar will be empowered to assign cases. The chief registrar is not a judicial officer. Assigning cases is the function of judicial officers. The chief registrar is to take directives from the chief judge and other judges.”
He also explained that the NJC did not appoint Justice Okocha an administrative judge as claimed by people.
The NJC, he said, only directed that the most senior judges in the High Court and Customary Court of Appeal should assign cases which had piled up since August last year.
Meanwhile, the state police command has restated its ban on political activities and rallies.
A statement issued by the state Police Commissioner, Mr. Tunde ogunsakin, yesterday said: “On the assessment of security situations in the state, it has become necessary to re-enforce the ban on political rallies. As the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in Rivers State, I have a responsibility to ensure that all gatherings for whatever reason, whether politically motivated or otherwise are carried out within the ambits of the law and in a way that there will not be any break down of law and order in the state.
“It is in this regard that it has become mandatory to obtain security clearance from my office before any political rally can hold. The need for security clearance has become inevitable in order to prevent a seeming plot unveiled by intelligence reports by a group aimed at disrupting the meetings of a rival group in order to cause serious crisis in the state. Henceforth, any group, persons or political parties of whatever persuasion who flouts this directive to embark on demonstrations or processions without security clearance will be removed from the road.”