Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
The Chief Judge of Anambra State, Justice Peter Umeadi, is currently locked in a battle of seniority with the President of the State Customary Court of Appeal, Justice Samuel Johnson Okoye.
Following a recent incident which occurred during a ceremony to mark this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day, Justice Umeadi has instigated the state’s Judicial Service Commission and the Chief Registrar of the Anambra State High Court to file a case before the court against the President of the Customary Court of Appeal in the state and the chief registrar of the court to determine who is superior between the two of them.
Paragraph four of the affidavit filed in support of the originating summons stated: “That first defendant (President of the Customary Court of Appeal in Anambra State) in sundry manners operates and conducts the affairs of the Customary Court of Appeal, Anambra State, as an independent arm of the state judiciary and his office as that of an alternate Chief Judge – for example on January 5, 2016 Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebrations at Awka after the Hon. Chief Judge of the state had made some donations on behalf of the state judiciary, the first defendant rose and made a separate donation on behalf of Customary Court of Appeal, Anambra State, and announced rather immodestely that the officers of the Nigerian Legion should come to the office of the President Customary Court of Appeal, Awka, to collect the donation.”
Irked by the audacity of the President of the Customary Court of Appeal in announcing a separate donation, Justice Umeadi instigated the state’s Judicial Service Commission, of which he is the chairman, to file a case at the Anambra State High Court where he is the Chief Judge and would have the privilege to assign the case to a judge of his choice.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to grant the following reliefs: “A declaration that by the combined effects of Sections 274, 271 and 197 (2) Part II Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended and Section 8 of the High Court Law Cap 66 1991 Laws of Anambra State, the Hon. Chief Judge of a state is the head of the entire state judiciary comprising the State High Court, Customary Court of Appeal of the state, magistrates’ courts, customary courts, etc.
“A declaration that at a state function where the Chief Judge represents the judiciary as the head of an arm of government, the President of the Customary Court of Appeal, cannot at the same function also separately, serve and purport to represent Customary Court of Appeal of the same state distinct from the judiciary of that state.
“A declaration that by Section 580 (2)(a) of the Constitution, the President of the Customary Court of Appeal which is only a part of the judiciary structure making up the judiciary headed by the Chief Judge, especially in its function as one arm of government of the state.
“A perpetual injunction restraining the first defendant from further operations or conduct as an alternate Chief Judge or Head of the Anambra State Judiciary, as the State Customary Court of Appeal is subordinate and subsumed into the judiciary of Anambra State as an arm of government which is under the office of the Chief Judge of Anambra State.”
The defendants are yet to file their defence to the suit.
A lawyer based in Awka, who did not want his name disclosed, described the case as laughable and wondered what the Chief Judge hope to achieve by filing it.
“Everyone knows what the judgment will be. He wants to be a judge in his own case,” he said.