For most of the past decade, Rivers State has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Politics of breaking the bounds of decency and disregard for established conventions is the rule rather than the exception. Everything and everyone must be controlled.
Without pretensions, no one in the State is more guilty of the rape of peace, order and her tranquil environment than the Administration of Nyesom Wike which took office in May 2015 by some sheer conspiracy backed by the brute force of our Ijaw sentiments against the former Governor, Rotimi Amaechi. Somehow, Wike who was nominated to serve in the cabinet of President Goodluck Jonathan, succeeded in pitching the former President against his former boss who he served as Chief of Staff, Government House between 2007 and 2011. Whatever magic wand Wike waved worked. No one was ready to listen to Amaechi’s side of the story that his disagreement with Wike had nothing to do with the Jonathan family. All had to do with the former Governor’s insistence that power devolve to the marginalized Riverine bloc after continuous election of Governors from the Upland axis in 1999 beginning with Dr. Peter Odili.
Unfortunately, the Wike Administration has carried on as though Rivers State is a conquered territory in her nearly eight years in power. From appointments to decisions on where to locate projects, the government has delivered a message of an incurable fixation with satisfying only a limited interest. There are more capital projects in Obio/Akpor alone than two-thirds of the rest of the State. There are more appointments or persons being drawn into State institutions through shadow employment in Obio/Akpor alone than the combined number in 20 LGAs.
The recent approval of appointment of Judges for superior Courts of record in various parts of Nigeria by the National Judicial Council (NJC) is the latest evidence of nepotism as the official policy of the Wike Administration. A cursory look at the list of the Judges bear eloquent testimony that merit, experience and character were hardly considered in pushing forward names for consideration by the NJC on the approved list which has Asivosuo MacCarthy Oriye, Omonigho Nwibani, Comfort Ifikmotu-Awaji Adangor, Prince Chika Mini and Beauty Ihuoma Emmanuel-Okere.
Whilst Rivers people should be glad that sons and daughters of the State have been elevated to the Bench of High Courts, the background of these appointees leaves much to be desired. For instance, Omonigho Nwibani, Comfort Ifikmotu-Awaji Adangor and Beauty Ihuoma Emmanuel-Okere were appointed Magistrates only in 2019. Omonigho Nwibani is the daughter of the Chief Judge of Rivers State, The Honourable Justice Simeon Chituru Amadi, Comfort Ifikmotu-Awaji Adangor is the wife of the Honourable Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Zacchaeus Adangor (SAN) while Beauty Ihuoma Emmanuel-Okere comes from Governor Wike’s family.
Concerned Rivers people, and even those of us now in Bayelsa State, believe that appointments of this character have deleterious consequences for the Independence of the Judiciary. There is also the belief that the lofty judicial heights the State attained in the past with widely respected jurists like Honourable Justice Adolphus Gabriel Karibi-Whyte (JSC), long-serving State Chief Judge, Donald Graham-Douglas, and Justice Koripamo Ungbuku who was also rose to the office of Chief Judge, could not have been possible in circumstances where merit is sacrificed on the altar of nepotism.
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Sadly, this trend of sacrifice of merit, seniority, experience and character which Governor Odili began with the appointment of Justice Iche Ndu ranked at No. 7 over and above his seniors like Justice Elizabeth Membere of blessed memory and Justice Sotonye Denton-West has continued with Wike. That only Justices M. O. Opara, G. C. Aguma, F. Onyiri, L. T. Senewo, F. A. Fiberesima, L. Ngbor-Abina, O. D. Gbasam and S. S. Popnen made the list of Judges from Rivers State to sit on the 2023 Elections Petitions Tribunals across Nigeria is another evidence of the character of control Wike exercises over the judicial institutions.
It is shameful that politicians do not care a second about the consequences of their greed. The tragedy for society is no justice or equity is guaranteed in a judicial system which recruits on a man-know-man basis. Of course, the first victim of recruitment processes such as this is an independent Judiciary. Woe betide that nation, State or democracy itself where Justices and Judges of our Courts are introduced to office via favouritism.
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Deinyabofa Angus, a political commentator writes from Abuja.