A Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt on Wednesday nullified the appointment of the Acting Chief Judge of Rivers State, Justice Peter Agumagu.
The court also directed Governor Rotimi Amaechi to comply with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution on the appointment of an acting chief judge for the state.
The nullification came off a legal action instituted by the Kengena Unity Forum led by Boma Goodhead and Ajenyanate Samuel. The forum challenged Agumagu’s appointment as the acting chief judge of the state.
The plaintiff maintained that the state governor erred by appointing Justice Agumagu, who was the President of the Customary Court of Appeal as the acting chief judge as against the provisions of the Constitution that the most senior judge from the State High Court should be selected as the acting chief judge.
Agumagu was appointed following the retirement of former chief judge of the state, Justice Iche Ndu.
While giving his ruling on Wednesday, the presiding judge, Justice Lambo Akanbi said the controversy generated by the appointment of an acting chief judge was needless as adding that the 1999 Constitution was explicit on matter.
Justice Akanbi however did not mention it in his ruling that Justice Daisy Okocha of the State High Court should take charge as the Acting Chief Judge of the State. He held that doing so would mean usurping the powers of the governor and the National Judicial Commission to make such appointment.
He said “the question as to who qualifies to be appointed as acting chief judge of the state has generated a lot of needless controversy. The provision of section 271, sub-section 4 of the constitution is very clear, explicit and without ambiguity. It says the governor shall appoint the most senior judge of the High Court.
I have evidence before me unchallenged that his Lordship, my Lord, the Honorable Justice P.N.C Agumagu is a judge and indeed, the President of the Customary Court of Appeal of Rivers State.
The inevitable conclusion I have reached is that His Lordship, the Honorable Justice P.N.C. Agumagu, is not qualified as a State High Court Judge hence he is not suitable and unqualified to be appointed as Acting Chief Judge of the High Court of Rivers State.
The only consequential order I should make in the circumstance is to direct the governor to comply with the constitutional provision on the appointment of an Acting Chief Judge of the State High Court as provided under Section 271, sub-section 4 of the 1999 Constitution. That shall be the judgement of the court.”