By Ovatitomi Ibingha
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Calabar Branch, Cross River State has condemned in strong terms the purported inauguration of new members of the State Judicial Service Commission by the Governor, Sen. Ben Ayade represented by his deputy Ivara Esu.
The body in a press statement jointly signed by it Chairman and Secretary, Paul Ebiala and Effiom Ayi, described the action as “illegality” adding that right procedures were not followed.
“The Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association, Calabar Branch at it emergency meeting held on the 28th day of October, 2019, reviewed the unfortunate development of the purported inauguration of ‘new’ members of the Judicial Service Commission by the Governor of Cross River State , represented by the Deputy, Prof. Ivara Eseu condemns in very strong terms the procedure adopted as well as the illegality of the action”.
The Association further view the action of the Governor as grave infraction of the provisions of section 197(1)(c), 198 and 199(c) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) as well as section 2,4,5 of the Judicial Service Commission Law, Cap J2, vol 4 of the law of Cross River State.
The NBA however distanced itself from such appointment positing that the Association is not aware of such, calling on the Governor to reverse his action and allow status quo ante bellum to remain.
The Nation Newspaper had reported that Cross River State Chief Judge, Justice Michael Edem led others Judges to walk out from the swearing-in ceremony of members of the Cross River State Judicial Service Commission on Monday, investigations have revealed.
Despite the melo-drama, Governor Ben Ayade, represented by his deputy, Prof. Ivara Esu, went ahead with the swearing-in of new members of the Commission.
He reminded members that “statutorily, the Chairman of Commission is the Chief Judge of the State as well as the Attorney General and that they don’t need to be formally inaugurated or sworn in because they are already members of the commission”.
But the Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to Governor Christian Ita denied the incident saying “Nobody walked out. They left the exco chamber before the event began.
“They waited in the exco chamber like everyone else and left before the deputy Governor arrived for the event to commence. So it is wrong to say they walked out when the event hadn’t started when they left”.
However, the walk-out staged by the Judges have elicited a response from various quarters.
The Calabar Branch of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) called for an emergency meeting of stakeholders to consider a formal response.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mba Ukweni SAN confirmed the NBA meeting and the incident saying “We have heard of the incident and the NBA has summon an emergency meeting.
“We support the action of my lord the State Chief Judge and other Justices who refused to partake in unconstitutionality.
“What the Governor did through the deputy Governor was unconstitutional. There is a process to dissolve or to swear in the members of Judicial Service Commission. It was not followed”.
He disclosed that “The Constitutional provision states that the tenure of office of the 4 member Judicial Service Commission to be 5 years.
“Whilst the tenure of office of the substantive members is still subsisting, the Governor swore in new members. Those sworn-in include a retired Judge, Justice Agbojo Ogar allegedly as Chairman of the JSC.
“Whereas, by Constitutional provisions, the Chief Judge is the statutory Chairman, besides, the Attorney General is also a statutory Member but no substantive AG is in place at the time of the swearing-in of the JSC.”
Ukweni SAN maintained that “the names of (JSC) members to be appointed ought to have been first submitted to the House for screening and confirmation. This was not done.”
An impeccable source, very close to the State Judiciary said: “When the Governor invited the Chief Judge for the swearing-in ceremony with the impression that the substantive membership of the JSC were to be revalidated on the basis of which The Chief Judge was conscripted into accepting to attend the swearing in.
“On reaching the venue, however, the Hon. Chief Judge found that the Governor was about swearing-in entirely new sets of Members in violation of the constitution.”
Our source reported that all the Judges who were present including the Chief Judge and the Governor’s biological brother, His Lordship, Justice Emmanuel Ayade walked out of the venue.
“The only Judge who remained for the swearing-in was Hon. Maurice Eneji.”
It is suspected that the Governor is allegedly violating the law in order to have persons who will do his bidding in the subversion of the clear cut constitutional provision and NJC guidelines for the appointment of the Chief Judge.
It would be recalled that the present Chief Judge Edem will be retiring on the 29th of November, 2019.
At contention whether Hon. Justice Maurice Eneji, who is allegedly preferred by the Governor as a successor to Justice Michael Edem is qualified to be recommended for appointment by the JSC as against Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme, who is the next most senior having been called to Bar 2 years earlier than Justice Eneji. Eneji was called to BAR in 1983.
Besides her seniority by reason of called to Bar, the Nation Newspaper finds that Akon was first to be sworn in by the Governor even though both Judges were sworn in the same day. which makes Akon by all Standards to be the next most senior after Justice Michael Edem.
But Assembly Speaker, Eteng Williams, who was at the event, declined to make comment.
Another reliable source disclosed that the Speaker was invited for the event only for him to see that it was the JSC swearing-in ceremony.
His arrival reportedly convinced the Chief Judge that some unconstitutional breach was in the offing, leading to the walkout with other Judges.
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