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Suspension of Abia CJ Unconstitutional, Assault on Independence of Judiciary

A group, Access to Justice, has faulted the suspension of Abia State Chief Judge, Theresa Uzoma.A statment by the group’s director, Joseph Otteh, also condemned the appointment of Justice Obisike Orji as Acting Chief Judge. The state government had on January 26, suspeded the chief judge for alleged acts of tyranny and gross misconduct.

Otteh said: “The purported suspension of Justice Uzokwe and the so-called appointment of Justice Orji as acting chief judge is a brutal violation of the Constitution.“Prior to this time, the Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu had dissolved and reconstituted the state Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

The group said the governor could not have reconstituted the commission based on a report that it was “incompetent.”It said the dissolution was also in violation of a court order restraining it from reconstituting the JSC. It added that the action negated the authority of the courts in the state, as well as the Constitution and rule of law.

Access to justice also argued that the state House of Assembly has no powers to suspend the chief judge or any judge in the state’s judiciary. “In purporting to do so, the executive and legislative arms overreached their powers, and also usurped the role and jurisdiction of the National Judicial Commission (NJC).

“Neither the legislature, nor the executive governor can appoint an acting chief judge without the recommendation of the NJC. The Supreme Court had ruled that the NJC must be involved in any process to remove the chief judge of a state, which in this case, did not apply.”

Access to Justice condemned the way the acting chief judge offered himself for appointment, especially as the incumbent had not been indicted. “Judicial officers ought to remain at the forefront in defending judicial independence and remain bulwarks of resistance to efforts by anybody to undermine that autonomy,” the group said.

Otteh urged the NJC to intervene in the matter so that the embattled chief judge could be restored with all her rights and priviledges.





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