CSO Demands Release of Inibehe Effiong, Says Judge ‘Taking Sides’ with Governor

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The Civil Society Consortium on Civic Space has demanded the immediate release of Inibehe Effiong, human rights lawyer, from prison.

On Wednesday, Ekaette Obot, Akwa Ibom state chief judge, sent Effiong to prison after the lawyer reportedly said he did not feel safe in court.

The human rights lawyer was in court to defend Leo Ekpenyong, a lawyer, in a libel suit filed by Udom Emmanuel, governor of Akwa Ibom.

Reacting in a statement on Sunday, the civil society accused the judge of taking sides with the state governor.

“It is disturbing that the chief judge of the state will descend to the arena of conflict and take sides with the governor in a matter that she ought to be an impartial judge,” the statement reads.

“Furthermore, the decision of the chief judge is in dissonance with the position of the Akwa Ibom state judiciary to protect the fundamental rights of Effiong.

“The question everyone is asking therefore is, if the counsel of the defendant is being persecuted for providing legal services to his counsel, what will become of Leo Ekpenyong, who is the subject matter in the case?

“The action of Justice Ekaette Obo portends the denial of Leo Ekpenyong’s constitutional right to legal counsel and fair hearing by the same institution that is conferred with the duty to protect these rights.

“It is now clear that the judiciary in Akwa Ibom is in bed with the executive and other arms of government in constantly repressing the civic space and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of residents and citizens of Nigeria in the state.

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“The judiciary should enjoy the separation of powers and independence. It is worrisome that the chief justice of Akwa Ibom state who is head of the judiciary has allowed the governor to turn the courts, which ought to be the last hope of the common man into a branch of his office.

“It is more concerning because the chief judge is positioned to promote justice at all times and should not be found to flagrantly violate the nemo judex in causa sua rule, which makes her the Accuser, Prosecutor and the Arbiter in this case.

“We condemn the high-handedness of the chief judge of Akwa Ibom state in strong and clear terms and seek the immediate release of Mr Inibehe Effiong.”

The group also asked for an immediate reversal of the one-month sentence given to Effiong by the chief justice in line with relevant laws.

Cable

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