The National Judicial Council on Wednesday declared the suspension of the Chief Judge of Abia State, Justice Theresa Uzokwe, by the House of Assembly of the state as unconstitutional.
A statement by NJC’s Director, Information, Mr. Soji Oye, said the council also on Wednesday suspended Justice Obisike Orji, who was subsequently sworn in by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, as the Acting Chief Judge.
The NJC also directed the third most senior judge in the judiciary of the state to step in as the Acting Chief Judge pending the conclusion of investigations of allegations of acts of misconduct levelled against Justices Uzokwe and Orji.
The House of Assembly had on January 26, 2018 passed a resolution suspending Justice Uzokwe as the state’s Chief Judge.
It directed Ikpeazu to appoint an acting CJ pending the completion of investigation by its committee into alleged acts of Justice Uzokwe’s misconduct.
The governor had subsequently appointed Justice Orji as the acting Chief Judge of the state.
The umbrella body of judiciary workers in Nigeria, the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria,had through an interview by its President, Mr. Marwan Adamu, with The PUNCH condemned the development in the Abia State judiciary.
NJC under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, held an emergency meeting over the issue on Wednesday.
The statement said the NJC “considered the recent suspension of the Abia State Chief Judge, Hon. Mr. Justice T. U. Uzokwe and the swearing-in of Hon. Mr. Justice Obisike Orji as the Acting Chief Judge of the State by Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu and agreed that the decision to suspend the Chief Judge and the swearing-in of an Acting Chief Judge without the input of the National Judicial Council is unconstitutional, null and void.”
The statement added, “It noted that its attention had been drawn to the crisis in the Abia State judiciary by petitions written against Hon. Mr. Justice T.U. Uzokwe and the one written by the Chief Judge against Hon. Mr. Justice C. U. Okoroafor, but in the course of the investigation by the committees set up by the Council, some elderly judicial officers of Abia State judiciary waded in and pleaded with the committees to allow the matter to be resolved amicably by them, which was granted by council at its plenary.
“At the last meeting of council which was held on December 6, 2017, council directed the committees to continue and conclude with the petitions before them if there were no reports of the settlement by the peace makers.
“While this was going on, the problem escalated and council was informed of the suspension of Hon. Mr. Justice Uzokwe and the swearing-in of Hon. Mr. Justice Obisike Orji as the Acting Chief Judge.”
The NJC said after considering the issues it declared Justice Uzokwe’s suspension unconstitutional and suspended Justice Orju for “presenting himself to be sworn-in,” an act which it said “raises potential questions of misconduct that council is now looking into.”
The statement read, in part, “In view of the foregoing, Council resolved as follows:
“The suspension of the Chief Judge of Abia State by the State House of Assembly without a prior recommendation by the National Judicial Council violates the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”