Following the impasse that has left Rivers State without a substantive Chief Judge for long, the Federal Government, yesterday, directed the Chief Judge of Bayelsa State to swear in the governor-elect of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike, on May 29.
Meanwhile, lawyers have reacted, expressing divergent views on the development.
The directive for the Bayelsa CJ to administer the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office on Wike was contained in a statement by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, SAN.
According to the AGF, the order was necessitated by the fact that Rivers State neither has a substantive CJ nor a President of the Customary Court of Appeal.
Adoke said it was regrettable that the existing vacuum in the higher rung of the River State judiciary has made strict compliance with requirements of Section 185(1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, under which Wike should have ordinarily been sworn in, virtually impossible.
Adoke said it was owing to the prevailing situation that the FG decided to invoke the provision of section185 (2) of the Constitution, so as to empower the Bayelsa CJ to conduct the governorship swearing-in ceremony in River State on May 29.
The AGF noted that section 185(2) of the constitution provides that, “The Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office shall be administered by the Chief Judge of the state or Grand Khadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the state, if any, or President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the state, if any, or the person for the time being respectively appointed to exercise the functions of any of those offices in any state.
“The general public, particularly the government and people of Rivers State, are hereby invited to take note of this development and appreciate the fact that the invitation extended to the Chief Judge of Bayelsa State to administer the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office on the governor-elect of Rivers State on May 29, 2015, is in accordance with the constitution and should therefore, be respected by all and sundry.”
Reacting, Chief Robert Clarke, SAN, said: “What is important is not the person that administers the oath of office but whether such person has the capacity to do so. Knowing the present situation in Rivers State, government must go on. So, whoever administers the oath of office is immaterial, so far as the person has the capacity to do that.
“The oath can even be administered by a commissioner for oath. On the argument that such directive should have come from the Chief Justice of Nigeria, well, you are right. There is a difference between the executive and the judiciary arms of government. Such directive should not have come from the AGF. He could have allowed the CJN to give such directive. Therefore, the AGF has no power under the law to so direct. My opinion, however, remains that whoever must administer the oath of office must have the capacity under the law.”
On his part, Deacon Dele Adesina, SAN, said: “If the offices of the state Chief Judge, the acting CJ, or the President of the Customary Court of Appeal are vacant, we have to recognise that there is no vacuum in nature. My opinion is based on three points. As at today, there is no Chief Judge, neither is there an acting CJ nor the President of the Customary Court of Appeal or acting President of the Customary Court of Appeal in Rivers State. Secondly, the tenure of the incumbent governor expires on the midnight of May 28. Third, it must never happen that the state exist without a leader exercising executive authority of that state. Unless you get the parameters I have laid down, you may not appreciate my legal conclusion. Based on these parameters, there is necessity to swear in the governor, and I believe that a Chief Judge of another state can do that. This is because, the intention of the drafters of the Constitution is that in assuming the office of the executive of the state, the person must duly take the oath of allegiance and oath of office.”[Vanguard]