There is an uneasy calm in the Imo State judiciary following allegations of nepotism and corruption which characterized the recent recruitment of magistrates.
247ureports.com investigations reveal that the recruitment exercise, which process started in 2009 during the reign of Chief Ikedi Ohakim as the governor of the state, was characterized by complaints of injustice and lack of fair play, resulting to relatives and cronies of the people in government to be recruited to the detriment of merit.
The Ohakim government had started the whole process by announcing sale of forms for lawyers with up to three years post- call experience in the state to fill the available 34 vacancies as prospective magistrates.
According to some lawyers in the state Ministry of Justice, the forms were sold for N5, 000 with a mandatory payment of N5,000 for tax . This process, however, was not completed by the then government before it was replaced by the current administration of Governor Rochas Okorocha which reopened the process nine months after the sale of forms was closed.
This led to about 600 candidates purchasing the forms.
According to the sources, this process was being handled by the state Judicial Service Commission which pruned down the number of candidates by weeding out those not qualified for the job, including those already in government employment.
Following the screening exercise in 2012, about 312 candidates were shortlisted for a written examination to pick the best candidates for the job.
‘‘ the exams were taken amidst tight supervision and there after early this year about 202 successful candidates were invited for oral interview ’’ The oral interview and the examination the source added , were such that only those in serious legal practice could attempt and answer as the questions set were mainly on the job experience .
While this was going on, 247ureports.com can reveal that the state government sacked the members of the state judicial service commission before the expiration of their tenure, a development that led to litigation against the state government .
This dissolution had since been declared illegal by Justice Nonye Okoronkwo of the state High Court who also ordered the state government to reinstate the members of the commission.
Our investigation revealed that rather than allowing the judicial service commission do its job of recruiting the magistrates, the state government in collaboration with the state Chief Judge, Justice Benjamin Njemanze; started issuing letters of appointment to some people including Chief Judge’s son, Obinna Niemanze who they termed successful. This happened about six months after the oral tests were conducted.
This has since been causing uproars in the state because most of the newly recruited magistrates did not qualify to be so appointed but owing to the fact that those issued with appointment letters were mostly cronies of the appointees of government.
Many stakeholders of the Imo Judiciary see the whole exercise as grave injustice that must be redressed because according to most of them ‘‘ there was no recourse to even 5% merit’’ a development they said led to the results not pasted on the public notice board, violating the laid down rule of pasting such results for the public to see.
‘‘It is customary to paste the results so that every candidate will know his or her ability. That failure to paste the result raises questions of foul play and lack of transparency’’ the sources said.
Amazingly, it was discovered that the swearing-in of the recruited magistrates was also shrouded in secrecy as just few people were correctly invited to the program.
It was particularly alleged that the chairman of Owerri branch of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) was sent a text message inviting him to the swearing- in program with a wrong date while judges were said to have been taken unawares even as some of the sitting magistrates got their text messages at the wee hours of the swearing-in day.
The stakeholders, especially the lawyers advised Governor Okorocha to right the wrongs in the recruitment exercise as it ran afoul of the established process of recruitment.
Their main concern was that allowing the magistrates to emerge through a shoddy process could be injurious to the justice system in the state.
Shamefully for the Okorocha led administration, the new bride to the present deputy governor of Imo State, Barrister Adaego Nosiri who had just returned to the country – without the mandatory three  years post call experience, was also recruited as a magistrate.