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By Vincent Kalu
The alleged power play between the executive and the judiciary in Anambra State has stalled the inauguration of a high court complex built in Umuchukwu community in Orumba South Local Government Area of the state by a philanthropist.
In response to the clarion call by the state government to Anambra people in the diaspora to “think home,” Prof. Godwin Maduka, a foremost and enterprising physician based in Las Vegas, United States of America, built the complex to usher development to his community.
From bad to good
The people of Umuchukwu didn’t believe that anything good could come to them, until now. A decade ago, the community was one of the most backward and poorest in the state.
Things seem to be turning around for the good of the community, which successive governments had forgotten, as one of their sons, Maduka, rose to the challenge to fill the gap. For him, the justice system is the bastion of democracy but the poor manner in which it is delivered in the country became a burden to him. So he decided to build a court complex that was analogous to what obtained in the western world. However, the court complex, described by the Attorney-General of Anambra State, Mr. Anali Chude, as the best court, not only in Nigeria but also in West Africa, which cost over N2 billion to build, has become the centre of a raging controversy.
Daily Sun learnt that Maduka obtained a prototype plan of the high court complex from the state judiciary and went ahead to build it. As it turned out, his efforts far exceeded expectations, as the court complex and residences are lavishly furnished.
One year after Governor Willie Obiano opened it, the court has not been put to use, and there appears to be no timetable for it to be put to use, as the chief judge of the state, is yet to post judges there.
The building is a twin court. If you were a regular visitor to Nigerian courts, when you step into the reception of the of the court in question, no one would tell you that it is something out of the Nigerian system.
Right from the cleaners’ offices to the judges’ offices, all are tastily furnished and equipped. There is a standby 350 KVA generator and water borehole. Across the court are the judges’ quarters, which are like a presidential palace.
There are two mansions separated by a fence. Each of the buildings has seven rooms, two rooms on the ground floor and five rooms upstairs, with three sitting rooms that are lavishly furnished.
One of the sitting rooms is almost the size of a lawn tennis court and the rooms are half that size. Any high-ranking Nigerian civil servant would regard it as favour to occupy the boys’ quarters. Each building has a standby 350 KVA generator and borehole.
A judge posted there would only move in with his wardrobe and nothing else. So the people of the community are in a quandary over the development and wonder about the stand-off when there are no land disputes, encumbrances or other issues in contention relating to the court complex, residences or the equipment and furniture in them. To them, it therefore remains a mystery why assets of over N2 billion donated without strings attached are lying fallow.
Alleging power play between the executive and the judiciary in the state, the community is asking whether the prevailing situation was an oversight or deliberate. How could such massive assets be left idle and unused? Again, if bureaucratic tardiness is to blame, does this not constitute a disincentive to other well-meaning citizens who might want to contribute to infrastructure development in the state? Have members of the staff of the National Judicial Council been given the opportunity of inspecting the court and residences? If they have, are they able to find any that rival them within Nigeria?
President-General of Umuchukwu Development Union, Hon. Okechukwu Nwele, told our reporter that when, on December 23, 2016, the court complex was launched by Obiano, their thinking was that, by January 2017, it would be in operation.
He said: “We heard that Umunze community petitioned against the siting of the court in our village, that it was supposed to be in their village. The fact is, the Anambra State judiciary gave the approval for the court, approved the design and gave the nod for the construction to commence. The internal problem in our community was never an issue as to why the court lies fallow.
“What is surprising is that it has been commissioned and the chief judge of the state doesn’t want work to begin there. We don’t know whether he felt that our community doesn’t deserve government presence or projects of that magnitude.
“Whether it is power play between the governor and the chief judge, we don’t know. Whichever way you look at it, it is discouraging for the young man who spent over N2 billion on the project.
“This young man saw the need for quick dispensation of justice and built the court complex. He spent N2 billion, but he is being frustrated. This will discourage other philanthropists who may have the need to give back to the community.
“No one has been able to say categorically the reason for this stalemate but some argue that it may be power play. I don’t know why politics would be associated with every issue in the state.”
Nwele added that, if anyone claims that Umunze people are opposed to the court being in Umuchuchwu, didn’t the person know about it before he gave approval for the project? Or didn’t he know before he approved the building plan and design?
He said, “We are yet to fathom the reason for that. So, if the governor and the chief judge were not on good terms as we hear, should our community be the one to suffer for it?”
According to Nwele, the person carrying out the philanthropic activities in the community was not a politician and doesn’t have any political inclinations: “He was just moved because of the backwardness of the community before he went abroad.”
The community, Nwele said, used to be called Nkerehi, the name of a deity, and the people were associated with backwardness. But in 2006, they renamed their hometown Umuchukwu and it was then that the light started pouring on the community.
“We were one of the poorest communities in Anambra State. Before, we could only boast of one primary school but God, through Prof. Maduka, is turning things around for our people.
“Look at the 17-storey proposed hospital. The building has been completed and it remains equipping it. When it is opened, it is going to be the biggest hospital in Nigeria, and his plan is to discourage medical tourism abroad, as it is going to be of the same standard with what obtains in the western nations.
“He built a police station and equipped it as well as police quarters. He is about to commission 40 three-bedroom flats, where judiciary staff and others will live,” Nwele said.
But how did things get to this ugly pass? Chude said the judiciary should be the appropriate party to answer that. According to him, the judiciary is in charge of courts, “even when we build, we hand over to the judiciary. The attention of the judiciary has been drawn to it.”
“The governor has personally contacted the chief judge, who has his reason for not posting a judge even after commissioning it.
“It is the best court you can see in Nigeria or even in West Africa. If you enter the judge’s quarters, it is like a presidential palace.
“The governor was lamenting over this situation. The judiciary is another arm of government. The CJ has his own reasons for holding it down. This would discourage others who have the heart to give back to their people. This is the type of person we are looking for and yet we are discouraging him,” he said.
When the reporter called on the Chief Judge, Mr. Peter Umeadi, he said by law he is refrained from speaking with the press and directed him to the Chief Registrar.
Daily Sun was given a document on the position of the Anambra judiciary on the issue, entitled, “ADR Committee to look into ligation between Nkerehi and Umuchukwu stalling the opening of the High Court built by an indigene,” signed by L.S.E. Uzuodu, Esq, Chief Registrar, High Court of Justice, Judiciary Headquarters, Awka.
The document, dated October 12, 2017, highlights the legal web that has trailed the court. It states: “The judiciary of Anambra State has found itself receiving knocks from many sides over the high court structure built in a town engulfed in fractious litigation whether to maintain their old name Nkerehi or change the same to Umuchukwu.
“The process of the change of the name is subject of litigation, so is the name of the town to attach to the high court. Surprisingly, each side of the debacle, which has extended to the surrounding towns, are attacking the Hon. Chief Judge all at the same time.
“Petitions have been written against Hon. Chief Judge by the side of Nkerehi, Umuchukwu, Umunze, Ufuma and many other loose groups, each swearing that, contrary to the respect they have for Hon. Chief Judge, they are surprised he would allow the other side to sway him to go against them.
“For example, the Nkerehi side is canvassing that the Hon. Chief Judge is doing the bidding of the Umuchukwu side, while the Umuchukwu side is also saying he is listening to Nkerehi not to start the high court.
Umunze is claiming that the he is colluding with Umuchukwu to remove the court, which should be situated at Umunze. Ufuma is claiming that the court should be in Ufuma and not Umunze and the Hon. Chief Judge should answer.
“The Hon. Chief Judge had responded to the petitions to my Lord the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of National Judicial Council, showing that the narrow issue is one of the law, especially the issue of what name to call the town. It becomes difficult for the judiciary of Anambra State to take a step without resolving the pending cases on issues, which are in court.”
Against this background, the CJ is employing alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to clear the legal impasse. In this direction, he has constituted an enlarged committee to sit and bring an end to the matter, with the following terms of reference: To use ADR to resolve the issue of town’s name that the high court would bear. Secondly, to facilitate a situation where the judiciary of Anambra State would not want to contend with an ongoing litigation in a bid to take over the premises of the high court, post personnel there and make it functional. Lastly, to remove permanently any issues, which would impinge on the exclusivity or independence of the high court as a place of session for the judiciary, which would reinforce the public’s confidence and acceptability as a place where members of the public would have equal and unfettered access.
The committee, expected to sit at the premises of Aguata Judicial Division, has the following chairman and members: Clifford Okoye, as chairman. Chief Ikenna Victor Egbuna, SAN, Chief Chris Ogom Adimora, Chief S.U. Anyia, Chief E.E. Egbunonu, Ben Okoko and Chuka Obele Chuka.
Other members are Chief S.U.S. Mbanaso, Prof. Ogugua Ikpeze, Chineze Obianyo, Helen Obi, Adaobinna Edozie and A.C. Peters, DCR (special duties). The secretary is Uche Aguolu.
The committee is to submit a report 30 days from its inaugural sitting to the Chief Registrar, High Court of Justice, Awka, Anambra State.