The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has threatened to take appropriate legal actions to seek remedies if Justice Theresa Uzokwe is not restored as the Chief Judge of Abia.
In a statement on Sunday in Lagos, the human rights group said that it would employ the National Judicial Council (NJC) and United Nations special procedure mechanisms to seek justice.
It called on the state Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu to withdraw appointment of Justice Obisike Orji as the Acting Chief Judge of the state and restore Justice Theresa Uzokwe as the Chief Judge.
In the statement signed by its Deputy Director, Mr Timothy Adewale, SERAP described Orji’s appointment as illegal.
The Abia House of Assembly had on Jan. 26, passed a resolution suspending Uzokwe over allegations of misconduct.
The house led by Mr Chikwendu Kalu set up an eight-man ad-hoc committee to investigate allegations.
Kalu asked Ikpeazu to appoint an acting chief judge pending completion of the committee’s investigation.
SERAP said that suspension of Uzokwe without the involvement of the NJC was unlawful.
“The purported suspension of Justice Uzokwe violates Sections 292 (1)(a)(ii) and 21(d) Part 11 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended).
“It amounts to a blatant attack on the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
“No judge anywhere in Nigeria can be removed without the involvement of the NJC no matter the level of allegation of misconduct against that judge,’’ it said.
SERAP also claimed that suspension of Uzokwe was politically motivated, and cautioned that it would set a bad precedence for other state governments.
It added that Uzokwe’s suspension constituted a threat to the independence of the judiciary.
“The benefits of the integrity of the judiciary should never be supplanted by the temerity and excessiveness which political powers often breed.”
“An independent judiciary is the foundation upon which the entire structure of our constitution rests.
“The suspension of Justice Uzokwe is a serious threat to this independence, and any impression that this principle is being improperly eroded should be directly and speedily addressed,’’ it said.
According to SERAP, a judge is in no sense under the direction of the executive.
“The judiciary is in a place apart, and constitutionally independent.
“It is of supreme importance, not only that justice be done, but that litigants before the court and the public generally understand that it is being done and that the judge is beholden to no one but God, his or her conscience and the judicial oath.
“The framers of our constitution sought to establish the judiciary’s independence and remove undue influence by both the executive and legislative branches by prescribing due process of law for removal of judges,” SERAP said.
The rights group said that restoring Uzokwe would be consistent with the 2012 Supreme Court decision in the case of Raliat Elelu-Habeed and another versus Attorney General of the Federation and Attorney General of Kwara State.