Thursday, 2 May 2013

Article: Imo State Judiciary In Troubled Waters

By Barr. Emperor Nnabuihe Iwuala (Ksc.)

Towards the end of the year 2011, the Imo State Government suspended the Imo State Judicial Service Commission. This was done through a letter by the Secretary of the State Government Prof. A. G. Anwuka to the Chief Judge of the state calling for the suspension of the activities of the commission. Subsequently, the state government appointed new members who replaced the ‘sacked’ ones who were yet to complete their constitutionally guaranteed tenures in office.

Consequently, the replaced members challenged their removal in an Owerri High Court. On the 27th June 2012, the Owerri High Court presided by Hon Justice Nonye Okoronkwo declared the replacement of the sacked commission members unconstitutional and ordered that the removed commission members be re-instated. The affected 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, former Member of the Imo House of Assembly Hon. Nkem Nwankwo, and Barr. Chinedu Igwe.

Consequently, the newly appointed members of the commission who replaced the illegally removed ones ceased to be in office.

Regrettably, the Imo State Government has since then refused to obey this judgment but claims to have gone on appeal against the judgment. This has invariably made the state judiciary not to have a functional Judicial Service Commission for more than 11 months from the time of this write-up.

Section 6 (c) Part II Third Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended) spells out the duties of a State Judicial Service Commission. They include the duty to appoint, dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over judges, magistrates, customary court chairmen/ members, the Chief Registrar/Deputy Registrars of the superior courts and members of the staff of the Judicial Service Commission.

Therefore, the implication of the non-existence of a Judicial Service Commission in Imo State is that all the above functions of the Commission are not being performed in the State for 11 months from the time of this write-up.

Recently, in the year 2012 a list of more than ten persons to be nominated as judges for the Imo State Judiciary was rejected by the National Judicial Council because of the non-obedience to the June 27 2013 court judgment ordering the re-instatement of the sacked members of the Imo State judicial Service Commission. Also, in the same year some persons were elevated to the Court of Appeal. Abia State had two slots while Imo State was completely left out because of the same disobedience to the said judgment. Presently, there is no Imo person at the Supreme Court since the death of Justice Pats Acholonu and there is no hope yet of having an Imo indigene at the said country’s apex court.

Furthermore, since the retirement of Justice A.B.C. Egu more than a year and half from the time of this write-up, there has not been a substantive President of the Customary Court of Appeal Imo State. The next senior judge Justice P. I. Okpara has acted beyond 6 months as against the constitutionally provided 3 months period. This is because there is no existing Judicial Service Commission in the state to confirm the appointment of a substantive President. Many legal pundits are of the opinion that this lacuna can elicit a lot of unconstitutionality. It is said that this can nullify some acts done by the Acting President of the state Customary Court of Appeal done in such acting capacity. Also there is no confirmation of a substantive Chief Registrar and Deputy Registrar for a very long time now since the inception of the Okorocha Government in the state.

In another vein, the Imo State Law on the establishment of courts in the state provides for a minimum of 30 High Courts to service the 27 local government areas in the state. Port-Harcourt municipality alone has 25 functional Courts. But unfortunately, Imo State has only few courts. As at the time of this write-up, there are no High Courts in 14 local government areas of the state. They are; Ezinihitte Mbaise, Ehime Mbano, Ideato South, Isu, Mbaitoli, Ngor-Okpala, Njaba, Nwangele, Obowo, Ohaji/Egbema, Onuimo, Orsu , Oru East, Owerri North and Owerri West. The irony is that some of the above listed Local Government Areas do not even have a High Court when in actual sense, the need up to four High Courts each.

To worsen the matter, there is no judge sitting at Ahiazu Mbaise High Court for about two years from the time of this write-up.  Also as a result of retirement of many judges, there are no judges in some High Courts in Owerri, none in Oguta High Courts 2 and 3, High Court 2 Okigwe, Isiala Mbano High Court and the High Court in Urualla Ideato South. Regrettably also, not less than two judges are retiring before then end of the year 2013.

Similarly, the above unfortunate situations in High Courts in Imo State are even worse in the state Customary Court of Appeal, Magistrates’ and Customary courts. Incidentally, it is over one year from the time of this write-up the Okorocha Administration conducted interview for appointment of magistrates but nothing has been heard any longer about the exercise.

The implication of the above scenario is that one judge, magistrate or panels of customary courts handles from 20 to 40 cases daily (being cases meant for up to four to five persons/panels) in the state. Also, the Panels of Customary Courts are distorted because of vacancies or completion of tenures of some members without replacement. All of these and more have jointly ruined justice delivery in the state as cases linger so much in court with disposal of cases unreasonably delayed. This has also made the people start losing hope in the Imo Judiciary which before now, was seen as the ‘last hope of the common man’.

Rumour has it that the re-instated members of the state Judicial Service Commission were sacked for selfish and political reasons. It is said that their sack is one of the agenda of a senior official of the Okorocha’s Government to make his wife the President of the Customary Court of Appeal against the rule on seniority in the legal profession. Some people are also of the opinion that the comatose in the state Judiciary is a manifestation of the present Imo State Government’s publicly acclaimed disenchantment for Rule of Law. Recently, I heard that the Okorocha Government promised to pay off the said members he sacked. The question now is what is the morality behind this? Are the sacked commission members outcasts or non Imo indigenes? Why not allow them complete their tenure and then appoint new ones?

The irony of the whole saga is that when the re-instated members of the commission were illegally sacked and new ones appointed, the Chief Judge of Imo State who is the Chairman of the Commission did not waste time in sitting with the new members. But eleven months after the Imo State High Court ordered for the reinstatement of the sacked members, the Chief Judge is yet to call a meeting of the commission and sit with the re-instated members. It is trite law that appeal against a judgment does not operate as a stay of that judgment. It is even a more confusing irony that Imo State Judiciary has refused to implement even its own judgment. Habba! The Governor should not be blamed in this matter. I think if the Chief Judge of the state as the Chairman of the commission starts calling meetings of the Commission with the re-instated members, the problem will be over.

The Nigerian Bar Association is among the greatest casualties of the predicament facing the Imo State judiciary. Ironically, Imo State has a lot of respected Senior Advocates and lawyers in the country’s legal profession. Nevertheless, many judges and other stake-holders have openly called for the recovery of the Imo Judiciary which is dying faster under the present administration in Imo State.

Interestingly, I heard that some senior members of the legal profession in the state have met and entreated the state Chief Judge to start sitting with the re-instated members of the commission but unfortunately, this is yet to happen.

Be that as it may, there is no hope lost. If the present government in Imo State means well for the Imo State Judiciary, I do not see any difficulty in getting this arm of government back on track.

Therefore below are my humble suggestions as way forward:

1.The court judgment re-instating the sacked members of the state Judicial Service Commission should be obeyed by the State Government. The Chief Judge should call a meeting of the state Judicial Service Commission and allow the re-instated commission members participate. This will make the state have a functional Judicial Service Commission that will take care of the welfare of the state judiciary.

2. In the alternative, if the government does not still like the faces of the re-instated members, these members could be sincerely approached and paid all their arrears of salaries and cumulative entitlements for their remaining tenures This might enable them resign formally for preferred new members to be appointed

3. The Imo State Government should grant the Imo State Judiciary financial autonomy just like it is in places like Rivers State. This will make the judicial arm of the state government independent and free from undue influence and control of politicians and other arms of government.

4. Other arms of government should not continue desecrating the judiciary by interfering with its activities for selfish and political reasons.

5. The society is becoming more sophisticated and the litigious consciousness of Imo people is increasing everyday. Therefore, adequate fund should be provided for the Imo State Judiciary so that this important arm of government can meet its demanding responsibilities.

6. More courts should be created and new judicial officers, magistrates, customary court officers appointed to handle the rising number cases that pile up in the state judiciary on daily basis.

7. The Chief Judge and other stake-holders in the judiciary should sincerely stand courageously against the undue interference of politicians in the activities of the judiciary just like in the good days of Justice Chukwudifo Oputa (Rtd.) as the Chief Judge of Imo State.

8. Members of the Nigerian Bar Association (especially the ones in Imo State) should intensify its fight to reclaim the state judiciary.

(Iwuala, an Owerri-Based Private Legal Practitioner can be reached on: 08037247295,

Article: Corruption, Violence, Dictatorship And Hopelessness In Nigeria

By Salihu Moh. Lukman

The APC merger negotiations have progressed very well with encouraging outcomes. It is to the credit of the leadership of the merging parties that so far issues of potential candidates, post-merger party leadership, etc. have not disrupted the merger negotiations. In fact, they have not so far emerged as serious contentious issues; although no doubt in not too distant future they are issues that the merger must address. On account of the progress the merger negotiations has achieved, many Nigerians look forward to the conclusion of the merger and the eventual emergence of APC as a political party uniting major opposition politicians in the country and to that extend therefore a major electoral contender in the country with the bright prospect of defeating the PDP. The hope of the defeat of PDP is founded on combinations of poor living conditions and the fact that the PDP has imposed itself on Nigerians since 1999. One of the factors that made that possible was the fragmentation of opposition politicians at all levels.

Notwithstanding the progress that the APC merger process has recorded, Nigerians are daily worried that somewhere along the lines, opposition politicians may blunder and plunder and as a result crash the merger process and dash the hopes of Nigerians. One of the ways, opposition politicians will blunder and plunder is by orienting the new party - APC - the PDP way and to that extend all candidates and invariably public officials the party will produce assume exactly the image of PDP, if not more ugly image. This will basically mean organising the party structures around individual candidates who will ensure that only party members that are loyal to them emerge as leaders of the party. These so-called leaders of the party would then secure the candidature of their sponsors based on which funding can be guaranteed. Upon successfully winning their elections, public officials will then take their 'rightful' positions as leaders of the party and dictate to the party structures. That way Local Government Chairmen will be party leaders at Local Government levels. Governors will be party leaders at state levels. At national level, it will be the President.

This will translate into subordinating party structures to the dictates of the executive arm of government. Party decisions will be mainly about crude demonstration of loyalty. Party funding will be mainly through individual political entrepreneurs who would regard party funding as investment that should yield dividend upon electoral victory. Legislative arm of government at all levels will continue as surrogate of the executive and in many respect centres for huge personal enrichment of members. In the circumstance, internal democracy in the party will be a far cry. Democratic development would remain a dream. Should that happen, then our opposition politicians would have succeeded in mobilising and organising themselves to defeat PDP but continue to operate a PDP government with so-called APC members. Is this a possibility or a reflection of the dominant pessimism and cynical mindset of Nigerians? Besides, assuming, our opposition politicians are able to do everything right, will they be able to survive the PDP booby traps, which may include winning current legal battles with INEC and some political merchants claiming to be trying to register so-called African Peoples Congress with the APC acronym?

These are issues that call to questions the organisational, leadership and intellectual superiority of Nigerian opposition politicians as reflected by the parties currently negotiating the merger - ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA. In terms of organisation, so far, about four months after the commencement of active merger negotiations at national level, there is hardly any formal communication to states, local government and ward structures. There may be some flow of information through representatives attending national meetings with some contacts with leaders at these levels. To be fair to CPC and ANPP, there are reported cases of mobilisational meetings with members across the country. However, the major orientation was basically to get the support of members and prevent any blackleg. With respect to the ACN, there were meetings of the National Working Committee, National Executive Council and National Caucus, first to give approval to the commencement of merger negotiation including the composition of the merger committee and subsequently to execute all statutory responsibilities leading to the merger convention of April 18. At the end of all these meetings, there were no clear instructions, delineation or delegation of responsibilities to party structures at states, local governments and wards levels.

Arising from the absence of any communication from the national level to states, local governments and wards regarding activities to facilitate local negotiations towards harmonising the structures of all the merging parties into a single one producing the APC and against the background of the dominant PDP culture of organising parties around candidates, states, local governments and ward leaders are mostly unclear about what to do. In most cases, there is a preponderance of peripheral informal discussions around which party will eventually produce what position in the new party. Part of the expectation is that it will just be a case of appointment. There is no expectation that it will be a product of elections. And since the issue of results of 2011 elections may be the yardstick for measuring popularities of the parties in the merger, as well as the question of resources needed to stimulate local consultations so as to guarantee even the acceptance of any formula for the emergence of the leaders of APC, the emerging reality is that potential candidates at state, local governments and ward levels are imposing themselves as APC-gatekeepers. Unfortunately, in most cases, party leaders at these levels have submitted themselves to these potential candidates.

In the circumstance, it may just be a matter of time for our APC to just emerge as a shadow PDP. In which case, from formation, APC may be dominated by mediocre leaders who will not be interested in running the party based on rules, conventions and knowledge. The only most important qualification will be money which will confer the authority to manipulate. Since money is a most important qualification, responsibility in government will just be the needed opportunity to convert public treasury into personal holding. Once that happens, the culture of corruption, violence and dictatorship will be the natural outcome. Given such a situation therefore Nigerians may as well be ready to regret voting out PDP. Depending on the extent of compromise of basic democratic values, we may also find ourselves missing PDP government just like today we are in some ways missing the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on accounts of poor performances of successive governments.

It is important that these issues are openly discussed with the objective of focusing the APC merger process to do the right thing. Nigerians deserve an opposition party committed to basic democratic values around which the conducts of candidates and public officials can be regulated. Nigerians are fed up with parties that are controlled by candidates and public officials. We, as citizens, are really exasperated by the existence of political parties that only promote corruption and the plunder of public resources. Nigeria is in desperate need of a party that will promote service and the development all parts of the country irrespective of religion, ethnicity or any form of differences. It is clear that APC present a potential of being a strong opposition party but it is coming with a big risk of being comprised, weakened and eventually emerging as another election platform controlled by candidates for elections who will be driven by all the negative vices of ethnicity, religion, etc. in order to win elections by any means possible. This will represent a huge national political disaster.

Can this disaster be prevented? What is it that we can do to prevent this disaster? To the extent that the merger negotiations are still ongoing, APC present an opportunity. What is needed is for Nigerians to aggressively engage the leaders of the party and persuade them to do the right thing. Often, it is not the big issues that will produce the right results. It is the combinations of the smaller issues that assist in producing the right results. Given the need to facilitate the emergence of united structures at states, local governments and ward levels, it is incumbent on our leaders negotiating the merger to come up with a complete new, all-inclusive and democratic approach for the evolution of the newly elected APC leaders out of what we have today. No doubt, there have been so many concerns around this but hardly new thinking. All discussions are tailored towards producing an interim leadership based on some formula. Once that happens, the party risk losing the needed democratic credentials. In fact, at all levels, the arrival of the party will be greeted with sharp division and internal fights and at the end completely neutralise any electoral potential.

One of the recommendations to take care of this major problem and place the party on a democratic pedestal is to seek to start building the party from lower structures. This will mean rather than appoint interim executives based on some sharing formula for the new party, can all members of current executives of the merging parties constitute themselves into the caucus of the party at all levels. In which case, basic guides about delegating responsibilities for Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, etc. can be democratically resolved within the context of such a structure. This will then guarantee that all members of the current leadership of the merging parties are integrated as part of the leadership of the new party. With such a structure, internal disagreement can be better managed and since already the draft harmonised constitution of APC has envisioned the existence of caucuses at all levels, they can then form the starting point of the organisation of the new party.

This will then require that clearly defined responsibilities are given to the caucuses. A good recommendation will be taking steps to unite all party members, starting with stakeholders who are elected representatives and those who served as candidates for past elections. In the context of these responsibilities States and Local Government structures of all our parties can be mandated to organise meetings and begin to prepare everyone for the merger. These caucuses could also begin to explore issues of strategies for membership mobilisation, including fundraising to implement merger activities.

This will no doubt go a long way in boosting the democratic potential of APC. Somehow it is not being addressed because there is a strong belief in our leaders negotiating the merger that the most important aspect in the merger is their ability to reach agreement at national level. If the experience of CPC is anything to go by, agreement or consensus among national leaders is not a guarantee for the emergence of strong democratic leaders at local levels. The truth is that strong democratic leaders at local levels can only be guarantee if there are very good framework that enthrone orderly conducts leading to the emergence of leadership. The absence of this is cancerous and will eventually lead to the collapse of the party, starting with dramatic electoral defeats. These were signals that CPC experiences in 2011 elections highlighted. Ordinarily therefore, it should be expected that our leaders need not to be reminded about this fact. Well, if just to be absolutely certain, this should awaken our leaders on the need to be steadfast.

Part of the reasons why attention is not being paid to states, local governments and ward levels is because there is too much concentration around who will emerge as presidential candidate of the party. This is an area where credit must be given to Gen. Buhari, Asiwaju Tinubu, Alh. Shekarau and all national leaders of the merging parties for moderating supporters such that the issue of presidential candidate of the party is yet to become a priority. However, it is important that we also recognise that although it is not directly on the negotiating table, it is very much around such that almost every person on the negotiating table is constantly relating with virtually every issue based on the presidential prism. In fact, there are many members of the merger committee relating with virtually every issue based on positioning strategy in order to gain recognition or advantage in one way or the other. As a result, it was therefore very convenient to ignore our local structures.

Sincerely, our leaders must work based on a strategy to produce a party leadership that is stronger and more powerful than any government or elected official the party will produce based on the capacity to command moral authority. One of the obvious limitations of the current merger negotiations so far is that moral authority is not a consideration at all. On account of which issues of public perception and support have been almost jettisoned. To some extent, it is also a reflection of over confidence. There is hardly anyway these issues can be discussed without reference to the conduct of our leaders. In some ways, although both Gen. Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu have moderated supporters not to flag up issue of presidential ticket, there is a way in which it is a matter that in future be determined with reference to the two of them. As a result, the current party leadership permutation hardly factors them or their role in the leadership.

So long as the role of Gen. Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu in party leadership is being ignored, the possibility of undermining the democratic base of APC is very high. This is because there is no way these two individuals will be in the party as ordinary members. Any interest they expressed will naturally elicit strong currency and therefore it is very necessary to factor this reality based on clear delegation of responsibility. In some ways, the existence of structures with good measure of responsibilities in the harmonised constitution of APC provides the basis for shared authority by all our leaders. A good reference point is the existence of the position of National Chairman and Chairman Board of Trustee (BOT). Either Gen. Buhari or Asiwaju Tinubu can be the National Chairman (not interim) or BOT Chairman and vice versa. And since we have ANPP as the third party in the merger, they can produce the National Secretary. Between Alh. Shekarau and Chief Onu, anyone of them can be saddled with the responsibility of being the National Secretary.

The reality is that no one among these leaders can dictate to the other and it is almost certain no one person can take decision without the consent of the other. Each of these leaders has capacity to veto any decision. Therefore consultation among leadership will be paramount. In addition, no government produced by the party at any level can dictate to anyone of these leaders. In other words, the party leaders will wield far more influence than any elected representatives, on account of which every government produced by the party can be subordinated to party control. As a result, all that ordinary members can look forward to will be to secure the support of any of these leaders and the party. In so many ways, this will guarantee contest within the party, which is what democracy is all about. The danger is if clear internal rules are not provided for the contest.

How then will the issue of presidential candidate then be resolved? This should have a life of its own. It will not be an easy task. The starting point will be for our leaders to start debating the quality of people to qualify as potential presidential candidates. This should also be cascaded down to gubernatorial and legislative candidates. Situations where individuals seek to position themselves based on some loyalty permutations is unhealthy, undemocratic and portend serious dangers. If APC is to come through as a sincere democratic project, all decisions including ones producing leadership must be founded on good parameters informed by consensus across party leaders.

It is important that we are able to humble our leaders so that they don't mismanage the merger negotiations and create a situation where APC is founded on mediocrity, ignorance, money politics and manipulation, which has so far constituted a strong bottleneck to our national democratic development. Mediocrity, ignorance, money politics and manipulation will only continue to entrench corruption, violence, dictatorship and hopelessness. Should our leaders represented by Gen. Buhari and Asiwaju Tinubu fail to ensure that the merger negotiations produce a strong, united democratic party at all levels, history will hold them accountable for whatever will be the result of governance and leadership failures of today.

(Lukman can be reached on: