Legal practitioners under the auspices of Concerned Laywers in Cross River State, yesterday, blocked the entrance to Governor Ben Ayade office in Calabar, demanding the appointment of a substantive chief judge for the state.
Ayade’s had earlier in the day, sworn-in Justice Effiom Ita as the Acting Chief Judge of the state following the failure of the National Judicial Commission, NJC, to ratify the appointment of Justice Maurice Eneji as substantive Chief Judge of the state.
Swearing in Justice Ita at the Executive Council Chambers, Ayade said the decision to swear in Justice Ita was in accordance with the directives of the NJC that the next in rank to Eneji in the state’s judiciary be sworn in as the Acting Chief Judge, following the expiration of Eneji’s period on September 3, 2020, after acting for two tenures of three month each.
He said: “The period between September 3 and October 3, there has been no one to assign cases in the state and to avoid the situation where litigants in the state would be denied justice, we had to adhere to the directives of the NJC and in the past two weeks we have been working on it.”
Meanwhile, the lawyers who rejected the swearing in of another Acting Chief Judge, said that they were no longer pleased with the Lacuna that has existed in the state judiciary, which left the position vacant for 49 days without a head.
Addressing journalists at the Governor’s office in Calabar, spokesperson of the group, Effiom Ayi, said it was rather unfortunate that things have turned out to be this way, adding that naturally, no vacuum whatsoever was allowed to exist in the position.
According to Ayi, part of their grievances includes the absence of a substantive Chief Judge in the state.
The lawyers, who assembled at the Judiciary Headquarters before moving to the governor’s office, which they blocked said the absence of a chief judge had paralysed the effective dispensation of justice in the state.
Ayi said: “It has never happened in the history of the state before. Cross River has been enmeshed in a totally avoidable bickering and dirty politics as it concerns the judiciary. As at October 16, 2020, over a 100 cases, including fundamental rights action filed by citizens cannot be assigned or heard.
“Letters of administration and probate cannot be granted, recommendations for appointment of judges, senior advocates of Nigeria and notaries public cannot be issued.”
Meanwhile, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Chairman, Mr Paul Ebiala, said the swearing in of Justice Ita was in order and has the backing of the association in the state, adding that some lawyers protesting against the swearing in of new acting chief judge were concerned lawyers and not the NBA as a body.
“We have three branches of NBA in the state: Calabar, Ikom and Ogoja and none of these branches is against the decision of the governor to carry out the directive of NJC. Those protesting call themselves concerned lawyers and that is not the NBA as a body.”