The non-appointment of a substantive chief judge for Cross River State has raised concerns among both the residents of the state and the legal profession, THISDAY’s investigation has revealed.
Sources within the state judiciary have alleged that the state Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, had instructed that state House of Assembly not to confirm the nomination of Justice Akon Ikpeme as the substantive chief judge of the state.
Ikpeme had been recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) as CJ since December 2019.
She was also said to have appeared before the lawmakers for screening and satisfactorily acquitted herself before the State House of Assembly Committee on Judiciary Committee.
But despite her recommendation by the NJC and satisfactory performance at the public screening, the governor was said to have deployed the machinery of the government to stop her confirmation.
It was gathered that the drama and intrigues that have attended the appointment of the substantive CJ came to a climax on the date scheduled for the presentation of the report of the screening of the CJ nominee when the House refused to hold plenary.
Sources within the state assembly accused senior aide of the governor of arm-twisting the lawmakers through under-the-table dealings.
This, according to the source, made the lawmakers to stay away from the assembly chambers.
While hosting the State NBA in October 2019, Ayade was said to have in an obvious Freudian slip expressed anger that the then outgoing Chief Judge, Justice Michael Edem, refused to help him install a judge from the governor’s Northern Senatorial District as the successor of Edem.
The governor was accused of dissolving the State Judicial Service Commission even as the constitutional tenure of five years had barely been half spent by the Commission.
“The governor hastily, without following due process of seeking legislative confirmation, swore-in a new Judicial Service Commission to push the nomination of Justice Maurice Eneji, a relative of Ayade from the Northern District, as Chief Judge. The machinations of the kangaroo Judicial Service Commission did not fly with the NJC who upheld Ikpeme, being the most senior Judge and recommended her as Chief Judge,” a source familiar with the intrigues said.
While it is apparent that Ayade favours someone from the Cross River North senatorial district to be CJ as the area has never produced one, sources within the state judiciary have insisted that the sacred tradition of the Bench which is founded on seniority should be sacrosanct.
“A denial of Justice Ikpeme as substantive CJ will not only destroy the foundations of the State Judiciary, but damage the ethnic cohesion of the State, a multi-ethnic population that had in past dispensations been brought together in common purpose and identity by its leaders. The hogwash of Justice Ikpeme not being an indigene despite being married into an illustrious Efik family of Cross River State will set a most dangerous precedent with attendant socio-cultural destruction in a world where inter-ethnic marriages are more the norm than the exception,” a senior lawyer from the state explained.
The lawyer called on the members of the State House of Assembly to ensure that Ikpeme is confirmed as Cross River State Chief Judge without delay.
He also called on Ayade to salvage his place in history by immediately swearing-in Ikpeme as the State Chief Judge.
“All men and women of good conscience should weigh in and prevail on the State Executive and Legislature to respect the tenets of the noble legal profession by concluding the process of Justice Ikpeme’s confirmation without further ado,” he added.