By Unini Chioma, The Nigeria Lawyer (TNL)
The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olumide Akpata has described the judiciary saga in Cross Rivers State as one undermining the independence of the judiciary because of the failure of the State to confirm Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme as the substantive Chief Judge, thereby creating a vacuum.
This is contained in a statement dated Monday 14th day of September, 2020 signed by the NBA President which was made available to The Nigeria Lawyer (TNL).
He noted that the situation is brewing “constitutional crisis and strikes at the rule of law”. Thus, he charged the State Governor, Sen. Ben Ayade, and the House of Assembly to confirm Justice Akon as the Chief Judge in order to forestall crisis.
The statement reads:
With dismay, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has been following the protracted crisis rocking the judiciary in Cross River State. The hallowed office of the Chief Judge of the State has remained vacant for about two weeks following the expiration of the 3-month tenure of Hon. Justice Maurice Odey Eneji, who took office in acting capacity in line with the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as altered).
The present administration of the NBA has pledged to strictly monitor compliance with the 1999 Constitution and the Rules and Procedure of the National Judicial Council (NJC) on the selection and appointment of superior court judges. The Constitution is designed to forestall any scenario involving a vacancy in the office of a Chief Judge; and the NJC, in the proper exercise of its constitutional mandate, has made recommendations for the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge. The failure of, or refusal by, the Government of Cross River State to complete the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge is, therefore, brewing a constitutional crisis and strikes at the very root of the rule of law. This vacancy is also crippling judicial activities and is undermining the independence of the judiciary in Cross River State.
The NBA is particularly disturbed by the reasons undergirding the refusal, by the Cross River State House of Assembly, to confirm the recommendation and appointment of Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme as substantive Chief Judge. The NJC has unanimously agreed that the reasons adduced by the House of Assembly are untenable and unsubstantiated, and has reinforced its recommendation of Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme. The NBA agrees with the NJC in this regard and enjoins the Governor and the House of Assembly of Cross River State to complete the appointment and confirmation of Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme as substantive Chief Judge. To do otherwise would worsen the present imbroglio and significantly diminish public confidence in the judiciary.
The NBA is working with the NJC to speedily resolve this issue before it does further damage to the public perception of the judiciary. It is our duty to defend the rule of law, and we will prod the Government of Cross River State to appoint Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme as substantive Chief Judge, in line with the recommendations of the NJC and the long-held judicial tradition of appointing the most senior judicial officer as Chief Judge.
There is no doubt that the casualties of this unfortunate development are the residents of Cross River State, who rely on the judiciary for the resolution of their disputes and for the remediation of their grievances. The NBA, therefore, calls on the Government of Cross River State to put the interest of its people and the rule of law first by speedily resolving this constitutional crisis.
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