As Cross River state remains for almost one year without a substantive Chief Judge, the Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states and other lawyers have charged the National Judicial Council (NJC) to speak out or take the matter to the presidency.
They declared that the conduct of the state government over the matter is akin to declaration of war on the judiciary in the state.
The Governor had in November last year after much pressure swore in Justice, Akon Ikpeme as acting Chief Judge, who was the most senior Judge in the state, but three months after the expiration of the acting tenure, the State House of Assembly declined to confirm her on grounds that she is from Akwa Ibom State.x
The House said she would constitute a security risk despite the fact that she is married to a Cross Riverian and her mother from same state.
Following her non-confirmation, the governor went ahead to swear in a junior judge, Justice Maurice Eneji, as acting Chief Judge. Twice the NJC declined to recommend him for substantive appointment.
As the tussle and intrigues continued, Ayade for the third time on October 19, 2020 swore in Justice Eyo Effiom Ita as the state’s new acting Chief Judge.
Irked by this ugly development the team of senior lawyers led by Mr. Paul Erokoro (SAN), who at weekend assessed the extent of damage at the house of their colleague, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) and other judiciary related property in Calabar, said, they believe that somehow the government have wedged war against our profession.
His words: “Lawyers in the ministry of Justice are not paid, so many were sacked recently, more than 30 of them and there is a magistrate who has not been paid for two years and they are working. The last batch of Judges that were employed, have not been given cars. These are things I’m sure that the government can easily address.x
“We feel that this government is wedging war against our profession. The process of appointing a new chief judge is very simple. The governor sent the name of the most senior judge, Honorable Justice Akon Ikpeme to the State House of Assembly and the House refused to endorse her appointment and because of that we have been in the position of acting chief judge.
“Akon Ikpeme acted for three months, Maurice Eneji acted and now we have another. We cannot allow this to continue because there is too much uncertainty and its creating difficulty in the development of the judiciary. Cases are not being properly assigned and are we expecting that we will run through the list of judges in Cross River state so that everybody will act?”
According to them, the NJC should report the State Assembly to the presidency, so that political pressure would be brought to them to do the right thing.
“NJC should not just be quite. We want clarity and certainty in this matter. NJC is not saying anything, why can’t they ask concrete questions? If the NJC is convinced with the reasons given by the state House of Assembly, they should say so,” Erokoro said.