By Jonathan Ugbal
Over a dozen women groups on Wednesday called on the Cross River State House of Assembly to revisit its decision to not confirm Justice Akon Ikpeme whose acting tenure as Chief Judge of that state elapsed on Monday, March 2, 2020.
The women groups led by the Mbono Iban Isong Efik association in a press conference in Nigeria’s southern port city of Calabar described as an “aberration,” the action of the legislature.
The association which led 13 others in a release signed by Senator Florence Ita-Giwa and read by Professor Francisca Bassey said the Assembly’s decision was “vile and hateful,” as the claims that Justice Ikpeme constituted a security risk could not be established hence their decision to resort to claims that her father hails fro Akwa Ibom.
The world is currently celebrating the International Women’s Week, and the MIIE said it viewed the actions of the Assembly as another attempt to rate women as second class citizens and therefore, infringed on the fundamental rights of Justice Ikpeme as stated in Section 42 of the constitution. This, the women group said was evident in the swearing in of Justice Maurice Eneji, a man, to replace Justice Ikpeme.
The judiciary in the state had on Monday embarked on an indefinite strike with courts across the state shut down. And, the MIIE said there was need to thread with caution in order to prevent setting a bad precedence for the future.
Below is the full press release.
“We the women of Mbono Iban Isong Efik Association (MIIE) collectively and individually are appalled at the resolution of the Cross River State House of Assembly on 2nd March 2020, which resulted in the rejection of Justice Akon Ikpeme as the substantive Chief Justice of Cross River State on erroneous grounds that she is from Akwa Ibom State and therefore constitutes a security risk to Cross River State.
“As women from different parts of Nigeria but bound together by our love for Calabar and many years of co-existence, the Mbono Iban, for all intents and purposes see and know that Akon Ikpeme is a woman of Odukpani local government area origin in Cross River State.
“We reject all spurious attempts to dissociate her from her husband of over 30 years and her 4 children who are fully part and parcel of the Efik ethnicity. In her own right, Akon Ikpeme is fully Efik as she was born in Calabar and had her early livelihood experiences here in the state.
“During the last 35 years or more, she has habitually resided and worked in the public service, and payed her taxes here in Cross River State, where she has not been found wanting. She later rose to become a judge and served in that capacity flawlessly. This fact was confirmed both by the Governor, Professor Ben Ayade during her swearing in as the Acting Chief Judge, and was contained in the report of the Judicial Committee of the House of Assembly and further attested to by many members of the House of Assembly who spoke of her impeccable record and character on the floor of House during the debates on the 2nd March 2020.
“We are therefore unable to understand what the logic behind her disqualification or rejection is about. Although she was denied confirmation by a voice vote, the reasons had nothing to do with her competence and service to Cross River State.
“No specific instances of her being a security risk was established and therefore, the resort to her state of origin was vile and hateful. The protracted nature of this debacle suggests a premeditated arrangement which to our surprise has been followed through.
“From the very beginning in 2019, when the question of succession was announced, her issue has been at odds with certain interests in the State. However, we expected that since His Excellency the Governor had graciously sworn her as Acting Chief Judge on the recommendation of the National Judicial Commission, over and above her colleague, Justice Maurice Eneji; the matter had been settled both in law and process.
“We therefore find it strange that she is being denied mainly on the ground that she is woman and one who is married to a person from Cross River State.
“Our challenge is that women continue to be displaced just because they are women. In their father land, they have no place because they are married out and in their husband’s land, they are strangers or refugees.
“Mbono Iban Isong Efik totally refuses to believe that women are now seen as Internally Displaced Persons or Refugees and calls for a total overhaul of this situation. It particularly wishes to draw attention to the fact that what happened two days ago at the House of Assembly in Cross River State was an infringement of the fundamental rights of Justice Akon Ikpeme and a matter of grave constitutional implication.
“All women are affected, because discrimination to one woman is discrimination to all women.
“We note that the Governor has sworn in a man in place of Justice Akon Ikpeme and would like to add that since this is in an acting capacity, there is room for the Cross River State House of Assembly to reverse itself on this matter.
“The right thing should be done in the light of the provisions of Section 42 subsection 1 (a&b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which states that: “a citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:- (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or (b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.”
“Consequently, MIIE urges the House of Assembly to rethink its highly malicious decision in this particular case.
“We believe that our counsel as mothers of Efikland and Cross River State women of concern, will be heeded to as we work through what has become a very tense moment in the history of our State. Never in our recent past have the women felt so violated and discriminated against and we believe the least that can be done is to right this wrong.
“Therefore, we urge the members of the State House of Assembly to revisit this aberration and allow justice to prevail to avoid setting a very bad and unacceptable precedence for our dear State-Cross River State.”