By Jonathan Ugbal
Mr. Eyo Ekpo, a former Attorney General and Justice Commissioner in Cross River has called on Judges of the State High Court to decline offers from the Governor to be acting Chief Judge in a bid to end the leadership crisis in the State’s judiciary.
The State has been without a substantive Chief Judge (CJ) since November 29, 2019 when former CJ, Justice Michael Edem retired.
Following pressure, Governor Ben Ayade swore in Justice Akon Ikpeme who was the most senior as acting Chief Judge on December 3, but upon expiration of her tenure on March 2, 2020, her junior, Justice Maurice Eneji was sworn in.
Justice Eneji served two acting terms of three months each which elapsed on September 2, and since September 3rd, there remained a vacancy for 46 days until on Monday when Governor Ben Ayade swore in Justice Eyo Effiom Ita, who is junior to Justices Ikpeme and Eneji as acting Chief Judge.
And, Ekpo, in a statement published on his Facebook page, said he expected that Judges of the State High Court will avoid helping the Governor achieve his aim.
“I sympathise with the dilemma in which Justice Ita and every other Judge of the High Court of Cross River State (except Justice Eneji who celebrated his Acting Chief Judgeship) who has a conscience has been placed by a leadership that has chosen the path of docility and acquiescence,” Ekpo said.
He added: “Those who should speak up for the Judiciary are silent. Still, I believe that every Judge in the State High Court should decline and refuse to be part of this tragic scheme of oppression against an innocent Justice Ikpeme. Let the NJC appoint another Judge from outside the State to go to Calabar and be the Acting Chief Judge there. After all it is a Judge like them that said: “Fiat justitia, ruat coelum”…”let justice be done, though the heavens may fall.”
Mr. Ekpo said he believed Justice Ita should have declined “drinking from what is in effect a poisoned chalice but I fully understand why he would feel a sense of duty to take up this post, because the NJC has approved it. “
However, he blamed the elites who campaigned for the Governor as well as the leaders of the lawyers associations for remaining silent on the issue.
“I believe the blame should be placed squarely on the shoulders of two sets of people. First, the elite leadership of Cross River State – those who, at every election, give directives as to who to vote for; those of us who call ourselves ‘leaders of the Bar,’ those of us who call themselves ‘leaders of thought,’ those who glorify themselves as ‘traditional institution,’ those who revel in the title of ‘community leaders and leaders of thought’; but who have remained silent for the past 9 months since this tragedy started to unfold, as this State’s illustrious reputation becoomes a dead letter. In this group I wil include the Attorney General of Cross River State, the Speaker and members of the State House of Assembly, who have actively or passively aided the travesty we are all witnessing.
“The other set of people I blame is the National Judicial Council, which can opt to stand firmly against a politically motivated scheme to subvert the Constitution and erect a machinery of oppressioin against the deserved elevation of Justice Akon Ikpeme to the office of Chief Judge of Cross River State; but which, on the contrary, has chosen to play politics with the State Governor and Speaker by embarking on a merry-go-round game of musical chairs in recommending the various Judges of the State High Court to the office of Acting Chief Judge one after another. This is a game that suits the State Governor but does nothing to uphold the dignity of the office of Chief Judge and protect the independence of the Judiciary, which the NJC claims to cherish.
“As a lawyer, I believe that the extraordinary circumstances of Sections 271 subsections (4) and (5) provides the tools that the NJC can and should use, combined with a resort to the Courts, to show Governor Ayade that his impunity cannot and will not stand. Unfortunately, all I can see is docility all round, acquiescence that looks on with feigned helplessness as Governor Ayade is allowed to have his ego-driven way that is prepared to destroy the foundation of good faith and integrity that is the real foundation of the Constitution and the public office that he swore to uphold. The elite of Cross River State and the NJC have acquiesced in Ayade’s subversion of the Constitution and they have no excuse for playing along with him,” he wrote.
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