Storm brews in Enugu judiciary over appointment of new Chief Judge

Posted by News Express | 21 August 2021 | 2,093 times

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•Outgoing Enugu State Chief Judge, Justice Ngozi Pricilla Emehelu


As the battle for succession begins, crisis seems to be looming in the Enugu state judiciary over the appointment of a new Chief Judge.

The trouble started when the outgoing Chief Judge, Justice Ngozi Pricilla Emehelu, adopted Justice Ozoemena as favourite, whom most lawyers adjudged to be incompetent, with sources in the judiciary system alleging that Emehelu may have adopted Ozoemena to cover her bad steps during her reign.

Justice Emehelu would retire on from judicial service on September 7, 2021.

The development would leave the state judiciary without a head unless effort is made, before the appointed date, to pick her successor.

In 2020, the National Judicial Council had, following a petition written by one of the judges in Enugu State who was number 4 in the hierarchy, reordered the seniority of Judges in the State thus swapping the positions of Hon. Justices A. O. Onovo and A. R. Ozoemena as numbers 2 and 4 respectively in the hierarchy of Judges of the State High Court.

It was learnt that Hon. Justice Ozoemena complained to the NJC that he was called to Bar before Justices Onovo and Onuorah who incidentally were sworn in before him in 1998 when they were appointed Judges of Enugu State High Court.

The NJC reacted by placing Justice Ozoemena at No. 2 and Justice Onovo at No. 4.

Dissatisfied by the development, Justice Onovo felt shortchanged by the directive of the NJC and quickly wrote to the NJC citing the existing laws of the State at the time of their appointment which made the Council direct a return to status quo.

That directive has not been acted upon as we have it on good authority that Justice Ozoemena quickly wrote to NJC again insisting on seniority according to year of call to Bar.

It is however, a thing of general knowledge that the NJC has made a policy decision on the matter of seniority of Judges.

The decision is that for any State that has a law, the law would apply but for the States that have no law, seniority would be according to year of call to Bar.

This may have informed the position taken by Justice Ozoemena that the 1991 Laws of Anambra State have no application in Enugu State. We have equally gone through Decree No. 2 of 1991 and the High Law of Anambra State 1991 which was applicable in Enugu State at the time of their appointment as Judges in 1998.

Recall that Enugu State only made its own law in 2004 and it was a replica of the Laws of Anambra State 1991. Since Decree No. 4 made the laws applicable in the old Anambra State at the time the new State was created applicable in the new State then those applicable laws in Enugu State would be the Revised Laws of Anambra State, 1991. The 3rd recital to the Revised Laws of Enugu State, 2004 made it clear that:

“In consequence, the existing Laws on 27th August 1991 in Anambra State shall continue in force in Enugu State with necessary modifications thereto.”

By the 2004 Revised Laws of Enugu State in the 4th recital:

“The existing Laws of Anambra State on August 27, 1991 are contained in the Revised Laws of Anambra State 1991 which Laws came into force on 26th August 1991.”

Was there any law applicable to Enugu State from its creation in 1991 until 2004 when the Revised Laws of Enugu state was made? The answer is YES. Section 8 (3) of the High Court Law, Cap 66 Revised Laws of Anambra State, 1991 had stated as follows:

“For avoidance of doubt, where on the same day, two or more persons are appointed to the office of a judge they SHALL have precedence in the order in which they took their oath of office.”

Meanwhile, as in the case of seniority, it seems to be clear from the provision that the order of seniority of judges of Enugu State who were appointed and sworn-in on the same day is according to the order in which they took oath of office and not according to year of call to Bar. If this interpretation is correct as it would seem to be then, there is no basis for the dispute over seniority of Judges of the High Court of Enugu State which led to various exchange of correspondences with the NJC and the furor thereby generated in the first place. It was clearly a dispute over nothing.

The conundrum remain that Will the most senior Judge in the High Court in the State be sworn-in to replace the retiring Chief Judge?


Source: News Express

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