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Confusion rocks Abia judiciary service

As two camps struggle for control
State moves to reduce number of magistrate courts

By Anayo Okoli

Umuahia—CONFUSION has enveloped Abia State Judiciary Service Commission as two groups are now struggling to be in charge of the affairs of the commission.

This is even as Committee on the Reform of the Judiciary, set up by the state government has recommended a drastic reduction of the magisterial districts in the state from the current 43 to 17.

The confusion arose following the dissolution of the members of the commission in November last year by the state government which also  appointed new members to replace them.

But members of the dissolved commission rejected the dissolution and approached the court and obtained a court order, which ordered the status quo to remain and the chief judge of the state, who is chairman of the commission, was said to have obeyed and maintained relationship with them.

In obedience to the court order, the chief judge was said to have refused to convene a meeting of the new members, insisting that they must wait for the court to dispense with the matter before any meeting could be convened with them.

But the position of the chief judge did not go down well with newly appointed members of the commission, who accused her of running the commission like a sole administrator and working with dissolved commission members.

Addressing journalists on the issue, a member of the new commission, Mr. Obinna Nkume, claimed that “since then, the chief judge has been running the affairs of the commission from her office and also fraternizing with the former secretary.”

Flanked by other members of the newly appointed members, Nkume said they have tried in vain to get the former secretary of the commission, Mr. Lawrence Okite, to open the office for them.

“We have interfaced with the chief judge, booked an appointment for us to meet, wrote a letter, all to no avail. She has refused us access to the commission’s office  and  prefers to work with Okite, who is no longer the secretary of the commission,” Nkume alleged.

Commission has not been reconstituted—Okite

Reacting to the allegations by the new commission members, the embattled secretary of the commission, Okite, dismissed the allegations, saying the Abia State Judicial Service Commission has not been reconstituted. He exonerated the chief judge of any blame in the crisis.

According to him, “some persons were nominated to serve in the commission based on a resolution of the Abia State House of Assembly. But the old members felt they were treated unjustly because due process was not followed and they approached the court to challenge the decision.

“They got an injunction from the court that the status quo should remain pending the determination of the motion on notice.

“So, what the other people who were nominated did was to go on their own and unlawfully reconstituted themselves into a judicial service commission in spite of a court order restraining the commission from being reconstituted. It is not true the Abia Judiciary Service Commission was at  anytime dissolved.”

State moves to reduce number of magistrate courts

The Committee on the Reform of the Judiciary, set up by the state government said there are in existence,  too many courts and magistrate districts that are also over staffed.

Submitting its report, yesterday, to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, chairman of the committee, Chief Umeh Kalu, SAN, said the committee reduced the number of magisterial districts from 43 to 17 to make it one magisterial district per local government area.

Kalu, who is the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, said the committee observed that there is existence of too many courts and magistrate districts that were also over staffed.

Kalu said the committee also discovered many fraudulent activities including falsification of age, recruitment of 85 staff without waiver, among others in the system.

Accordingly, the chairman said the recommendations of his committee include compulsory retirement of those who falsified affidavit of age.

The committee also recommended that the Judiciary Service Commission should redeploy the excess staff to the ministries where their services may be needed while the lawyers among them should be assigned to judges.

Kalu explained that in the course of its assignment, the committee toured the 17 council areas, visited 31 magistrates’ courts, 54 customary courts and one Customary Court of Appeal.

Receiving the report, Governor Ikpeazu frowned at some of the findings of the committee, describing them as unfortunate, saying he regards the judiciary as a sacred institution and expressed disappointment over the manner of illegalities discovered in that arm.


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