By Archibong Jeremiah
Judicial activities in Nigeria’s South South Cross River State, has been crippled for seven (7) days now because of the vacuum in the office of the Chief Judge of the State.
Justice Maurice Eneji’s tenure as the acting Chief Judge of the State expired on Wednesday, September 2, 2020. Findings revealed that Justice Eneji cannot be reappointed having served for two conservative tenure of three months each.
The National Judicial Council (NJC) headed by the Chief Justice of the Federation (CJN), as at press time is yet to act on the vacuum that has crippled the judiciary in Cross River State.
Speaking in a telephone interview, the Chairman of Calabar branch of the NBA, Dr. Paul O. Ebiala, regretted the non-appointment of a substantive State Chief Judge.
He said the absence of the Chief Judge of the State presage danger and not a healthy development for the State.
The lawyer said it was unprecedented in the history of the Judiciary in Cross River State to be without a Chief Judge.
“The absence of the Judiciary in Cross River State is like shutting down the system completely, it is just like having a State but no Governor.
“A State that has no Governor is shut down completely; the Judiciary that has no Chief Judge is also shut down completely. A similar thing applies to the House of Assembly.
“In the case of the Speaker of the House of Assembly, we have a Deputy Speaker and we also have a Deputy Governor but in the case of Chief Judge, there is no deputy.
“Once the Chief Judge is not there, the entire activities of Judiciary are crippled, we talk about the assignment of cases, there will be nobody to assign cases, nobody to attend to official or administrative matters.
“We have condemned the non-appointment of the substantive Chief Judge, and we are saying whatever needs to be done should be done immediately for the Chief Judge to occupy that office.
“We would have gone to court and compelled whosoever has work to do in respect of the appointment of Chief Judge, but we cannot because nobody can assign cases.
“It’s as bad as that, we can’t even go to court because there is no court, even the vacation court that is supposed to be sitting cannot do that because there is no person to assign cases which would have been done by the Chief Judge, that is how bad it is, you cannot go to court to ask for an order, you cannot do anything.”
The reason behind the non-appointment of a substantive State Chief Judge is not clear at the moment.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended in chapter 7, part 2, section 271, sub 1-5 states on appointment of Chief Judge of a State that:
(1) The appointment of a person to the office of Chief Judge of a State shall be made by the Governor of the State on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to confirmation of the appointment by the House of Assembly of the State.
(2) The appointment of a person to the office of a Judge of a High Court of a State shall be made by the Governor of the State acting on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council.
(3) A person shall not be qualified to hold office of a Judge of a High Court of a State unless he is qualified to practise as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for a period of not less than ten years.
(4) If the office of Chief Judge of a State is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any person unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the Governor of the State shall appoint the most senior Judge of the High Court to perform those functions.
(5) Except on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council an appointment pursuant to subsection (4) of this section shall cease to have effect after expiration of three months from the date of such appointment and the Governor shall not re-appoint a person whose appointment has lapsed.
The Sen. Ben Ayade administration has been at loggerheads with NJC over the appointment of Maurice Eneji as acting Chief Judge against Akon Ikpeme.