A respected member of the inner bar, Ferdinand Orbih (SAN) and a constitutional lawyer, Dame Carol Ajie have commended the National Judicial Council (NJC) for voiding the sack of the Chief Judge (CJ) of Abia State, Theresa Uzokwe, by the State House of Assembly.
NJC is a statutory body created by section 153 of the 1999 Constitution as amended with powers to hire and fire erring judicial officers.
The Council had declared the removal of the state chief judge by the state house of assembly without its input as unconstitutional.
The NJC had also written the state governor to remove the judge who was sworn in to replace the chief judge while it appointed the next most senior judge to run the affairs of the state judiciary pending resolution of the crisis in the third arm of government in the state.
Commenting on the development, Orbih said: “While it is correct to say that Section 292 (1) donate the power to remove a CJ of a state from office, it is equally correct that section cannot be read in isolation from the provisions of Sections 153 (1), 158 (1), 292 (1) as well as paragraph 21 (c) and (d) of the 3rd Schedule to the Constitution.
“A careful perusal of these other Sections will reveal that the power to discipline judges resides in the NJC. For instance, Section 158(1) of the Constitution guarantees the independence of the NJC when exercising its disciplinary powers while Paragraph 21 (c) and (d) of the 3rd Schedule to the Constitution donate the power to recommend to the removal of various categories of Judicial officers to the Governor for the purpose of removing them from office.
“A community reading of the Sections of the Constitution referred to above will reveal that only the NJC has the power to discipline judicial officers including the Chief Judge of a State.”
He argued that the principle of separation of powers is enshrined in our Constitution. “May that day not come when our judicial officers will be subjected to the whims and caprices of the Legislative and Executive branches of Government because Nigeria will be the worse for it,” he said.