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The Chief Judge of Imo State, Justice Benjamin Njemanze has made clear his intention of gagging the press in the state following media report of his ignoble role in the recent recruitment of magistrates.

A public affairs analyst, Barr Emperor Iwuala had written against the shoddy recruitment of the new magistrates, which saw the CJ?s son, Obinna Njemanze and his cousin, Ariche Ihuaku Adaoha being among the 26 magistrates recruited. Even the wife of Eze Madumere, deputy governor of the state, Nosiri Adaego who never had up to one year post-call experience and other unqualified cronies of the powerful state government officials were recruited to the detriment of merit.

Expressing fears that the exercise would set a bad precedence because of corruption and lack of fairness, the writer who published the opinion in two respected local tabloids in the state- Nigeria Newspoint and Imo Trumpeta newspapers- also called on well-meaning judiciary stakeholders and the state government to recover the state judiciary from the hands of Justice Njemanze.

Expectedly, the piece did not go down well with the CJ, who immediately resorted to intimidation as a way of suppressing the press in the state.

In recent separate letters written by the Chief Judge through his solicitor, Prof. Francis Dike(SAN) of Nnaji Dike Chambers to Iwuala and the two newspapers, he threatened to deal with them if they failed to publish a front page apology and pay him the sum  of N500 million each within three weeks.

The CJ?s threat was coming even after the Owerri Branch of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) after reviewing the recruitment process, also condemned the way the new magistrates were appointed.

Since the allegation was made, the office of the Chief Judge did not deem it fit to clear his name by explaining the entire process.

It will be recalled that the new magistrates were appointed without the input of the State Judicial Service Commission which, according to Justice Nonye Okoronkwo of the state High Court, was dissolved illegally by Governor Rochas Okorocha.

This heightened suspicion in all quarters that the Chief Judge, in collaboration with the state government, might have sidelined successful candidates in the process.

Also, the idea of not pasting the results of the test given to the candidates added to the suspicion and raised questions of foul play and lack of transparency.

Meanwhile, some concerned Citizens of the state have condemned what they termed intimidation of critics and the press by Justice Njemanze.

According to a newspaper columnist, Kenneth Uwadi, in his recent piece in Announcer Weekend titled, Imo State Chief Judge and The Press, intimidating critics for demanding good service from a public servant, violates Nigerian Constitution and international norms on freedom of expression.

?Justice Njemanze as a public official and public figur should prove to us that Iwuala?s allegation that he(Njemanze) unjustly appointed magistrates in the state was false and that it was published with something called actual malice?

?Fighting Iwuala is an attempt to deny a media man the fundamental right to protest against unpopular and anti-people?s policies. Justice Njemanze by this threat to sue the media has moved against free speech in Imo State. It is an indicator that he has no respect for press freedom. His attempt will not succeed and his excuses will not stand the test of law, the test of decency nor the test of time. We say No to press intimidation,? he wrote.

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