By Henry Umahi
At the time Wike assumed office, the administration of justice in Rivers State was shambolic. The courts were shut down, while judiciary workers were on an indefinite strike because they were being owed wages. There was neither a substantive Chief Judge for the state nor a president for the Customary Court of Appeal in the state. In other words, both strands of the state’s court system had no one to call their leader.
The impact was profound. Lawyers were rendered jobless and as a result most of them suffered financial distress. Crime rate went up and incidents of lawlessness and self-help were prevalent. The judicial infrastructure deteriorated.
Wike promised to turn things around. He specifically promised “not to interfere in the administration of justice and the appointment of judicial officers; to resolve the impasse in the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge for the state and reopen the courts for business; to ensure the judiciary is self-accounting and the first-line charge in the state’s budget; to give priority attention to the welfare of judicial officers during and after service; to improve the welfare of magistrates; to equip the courts to improve their operational efficiency and effectiveness and ensure speedy dispensation of justice; and to promote and expand the development of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.”
The scorecard of the administration of justice shows that Wke is effectively delivering on each and every of the seven promises on transforming the state’s judiciary. The governor’s accomplishments include re-opening and restoring stability to the judicial system.
Wike delivered the first three promises in his first weeks in office. The courts were reopened, an acting Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Daisy Wotube Okocha, was appointed and later confirmed as substantive Chief Judge to stabilize the judiciary. When she retired, Hon. Justice Adama Iye Iyaye was immediately appointed as acting Chief Judge and later confirmed as the substantive Chief Judge through due process. Thus, within weeks of assuming office, Wike reopened the courts, closed for over one year by his predecessor, for business; restored normalcy and stability to the judicial system; and introduced a merit-based appointment of judicial officers to leadership positions in the judiciary.
Wike also reinforced judicial independence, provided improved working conditions for judges and magistrates, provided judicial infrastructure, law reforms, legislative initiatives, prison decongestion, case management, department of Citizens’ Rights, Department of Civil Litigation.
The improved working conditions for judges and magistrates included purchase and allocation of posh Ford Explorer SUVs to all the high court judges of the state’s judiciary; purchase and allocation of brand new Honda salon cars to all the magistrate’s of the state’s judiciary; the introduction of the policy that allows serving judges to live in official residences after retirement for life; purchase of new vehicles for judges of Rivers State origin serving with the federal judicial system; sponsoring of judges and magistrates to capacity-building training and workshops within and outside Nigeria; and rehabilitation of courtrooms and provision of conducive working conditions for judges and magistrates in the state.
History was made on September 3, 2020, as 24 duplexes, christened Emmanuel Chinwenwo Aguma Judges’ Quarters, were inaugurated with the intension to boost the morale of judges to dispense justice courageously and have them retire satisfactorily in good conscience.
The state government spent N6 billion to provide the accommodation for 12 judges and N150 million each (N3.6 billion) to 23 judges who opted for cash to build their own houses.
Wike explained that the overriding consideration for such investment was judicial independence to secure effective administration of justice and to entrench Rivers State as a regional judicial hub in the South-South.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammad, who was represented by a Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Mary Odili, commended Wike while inaugurating the buidings, saying: “We are not ignorant of Governor Wike’s huge investment to improve infrastructures of federal courts. You are today also giving the judges a life-long accommodation on owner-occupier basis.”
In summarizing the achievements of the Wike administration in the education sector in Rivers State, Commissioner for Education, Prof. Kaniye Ebeku, said: “Obviously, there is no doubt that education is key to development in any society. When Governor Wike took over office on May 29, 2015, the education sector was uppermost in his mind and he took early steps to ensure that he improved the quality of education in the state. At the time he took over office, there were a lot of issues in the education sector, from the tertiary to the secondary and primary school level. The government of Wike ensured improved access to quality education. The governor embarked on the renovation and rehabilitation of decaying school infrastructures across the 23 LGAs in the state. These projects immediately improved the learning environment and encouraged people who had, hitherto, lost hope in the public education system in the state to return to public schools. This movement to improve access to quality education in the state is still ongoing even under the governor’s second term in office. He is not tired of improving the lot of education in the state. So, I would say that the journey so far is indeed very impressive as you can find out across the state. Many of our schools are wearing new looks and infrastructures have improved greatly. So far so good.”