From TONY JOHN, Port Harcourt
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has explained that no arm of government and sector in the State has been treated poorly in terms of allocation of funds and distribution of infrastructure.
The governor made the explanation at the flag-off of construction work on the Magistrates Court Complex that was performed by the Chairman, Nigerian Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, in Port Harcourt, yesterday.
Responding to an allusion made by one of the speakers at the event who cited a question that a friend asked him about so much attention paid to the judiciary, Governor Wike said that person must be a mischief maker.
Governor Wike said so much money has been spent in the health sector, which could not be compared to what has been spent in the judiciary.
He said this would be the last project his administration will be executing for the judiciary before his tenure ends and assured that it would be completed within the next eight months.
Other projects that are already ongoing, he said, include the State judiciary institute, the Federal Judicial Service Commission for the South-South, allocated to Rivers State.
The governor, however, took a swipe at the state judiciary about the lack of space and courtrooms in the High Court premises that make magistrates and judges share courtrooms.
Governor Wike queried what they have been doing with their capital budget released to them in the last six and half years.
According to him, they cannot receive such money and still wait for the execute to provide offices for them, effect repairs on existing offices and also make the air conditional in the courtrooms functional.
He expressed: “Let me say something I find very disturbing because it is self indictment. You said that people sit in the morning, people sit in the afternoon because of no space.
“The question now becomes what has the judiciary been doing with their capital budget. Because I’m surprised. All these (projects) that are been done is done by the executive. We release your capital budget as at when due.
“Again, why do you recommend for the appointment of new magistrates when you know there is no court for them. Why? As I speak today, we are not owing the judiciary any dime.”
Governor Wike stated that when the new Magistrate Court complex will be completed, it would be fitted with all modern facilities and will help decongest the State High Court.
Performing the flag-off, Governor Fayemi commended Governor Wike for the transformational work, not just in the judiciary alone, but in every sector in the State.
Fayemi observed that what is happening to the magistracy in Rivers State and the ongoing construction of campus of Nigerian Law School in Port Harcourt, are also worthy of commendation.
According to him, even if he is not a lawyer, he is educated enough to know the importance of this arm of government and particularly the importance of the magistracy to the administration of justice in the country and what Governor Wike has done is going to make a fundamental difference.
“From the statistics I’ve seen, 70 percent of matters relating to criminal justice administration are handled at the magistracy. And that contributes immensely to addressing our long standing problem of awaiting trial detainees in our prisons.
“So, if we provide a conducive environment for our magistrates to function, it goes without saying that they would deliver their responsibilities a lot more swiftly, and also cover a lot more grounds in order to address that challenge.”
Governor Fayemi said issues raised about the judiciary by Governor Wike are serious and said it was the aspiration of the federating States in the country to have a truly independent judiciary.
“What we look forward to as states is that time that we would also have state courts that are not just autonomous but that are wholly driven from the state, not ones driven from the national judicial council, that is the vision of state and that is what we look forward to.”
On his part, the Chief Judge of Rivers State, Justice Simeon Amadi, said the construction of the Magistrate courts complex has come at an auspicious time most desired.
According to him, it would decongest the State High Court complex where magistrate court is currently being housed.
In his address, the Rivers State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Prof. Zacchaeus Adangor, said the stability, peace and order of any society depends largely on the administration of justice.
The magistrates Courts, he noted, are the component of the court system that discharges crucial responsibility in upholding the sanctity of the law, particularly the criminal law and the magistrate courts handles over 70 percent of criminal cases which make the project all so important.
Speaking for the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Okey Wali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), stated that governor Wike has the hindsight of understanding the peculiar problems of the judiciary and is deliberately addressing them in order to also strengthen democracy.
Special Adviser to the Governor on Special Projects, George Kelly-Dax Alabo explained that the complex sits on a 10.150 squares meters of land and contain 24 courts in two storey of four buildings that would have six courts each.