NBA Urges NJC to Reject Cross River’s Acting CJ

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•FIDA: It’s a violation of Ikpeme’s human right

Davidson Iriekpen

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) yesterday called on the National Judicial Council (NJC) to reject the appointment and swearing-in of Justice Maurice Eneji as the Acting Chief Judge of Cross River State by the state Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade.

It described the appointment and swearing-in of Justice Eneji as an absurdity and naked injustice, which must not be allowed to stand.
In a statement by its President, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), the association also called on the council to sanction Justice Eneji for not only accepting the position, but presenting herself for swearing-in.

Following the retirement of the former CJ, Justice Michael Edem, the state government had recommended Justice Ikpeme and Justice Eneji to the NJC for appointment as the Chief Judge of the state.

The council, in December 2019, interviewed both candidates and found them respectively suitable for the position but recommended Justice Ikpeme for appointment as the chief judge, being the most senior judge and not having any negative report howsoever.
However, following political undercurrents and intrigues, the state House of Assembly rejected her confirmation as substantive chief judge of the state on the excuse that she is not from the state by birth although married to a Cross River man.

Angered by the development, the NBA yesterday opposed the appointment and swearing-in of Justice Eneji, saying it is biased and unconstitutional.
It called on the Cross River State Government to urgently retrace its steps and confirm Justice Ikpeme as the substantive chief judge of the state.
The association added that from whichever angle it is viewed, it is distasteful and must be denounced by all lovers of Nigeria’s judiciary and its independence.
It added that the cherished tradition in the judiciary is that the most senior judges be appointed as CJs or heads of courts.

“From whichever angle one looks at the ongoing macabre dance in Cross River State, it is distasteful and must be denounced by all lovers of Nigeria’s judiciary and its independence.
“The cherished tradition of appointing the most senior judges, where they have no reported blemish howsoever, to fill vacancies as heads of courts in the states and federal judiciaries promotes harmony within the judiciary and extirpates political corruption.

“That tradition must be protected in our overall interest and for the preservation of the rule of law and the precepts of justice. “With these principles in mind, it is not too late for Justice Eneji to relinquish the acting appointment that, presumably, has been foisted on him by the CRS politicians and we respectfully urge his lordship to so act. By so doing, his lordship would earn himself a position of honour and distinction in the annals of Nigerian justice administration.

“The NBA also calls on both the executive and legislative arms of the Cross River State Government to urgently retrace their steps and confirm Justice Ikpeme for appointment as the substantive Chief Judge of Cross River State.

“The NJC indeed owes the Nigerian judiciary and the justice sector the duty of insisting on that position, to wit, the confirmation and appointment of Ikpeme as the Chief Judge of Cross River State.

“If we, of the justice sector, do not and cannot stand up for Ikpeme today, we would effectively have abdicated our responsibilities and should expect similar and worse degradations and desecration of the judiciary and judicial appointments by the executive and legislative arms of governments in the various states of the federation and, indeed, even at the federal level.

“The NJC should also appropriately sanction judicial officers who connive at these unworthy and unconstitutional acts by the executive and legislative arms of government. Precedents of the NJC’s actions abound in this regard.

“The judiciary in Cross River State and beyond should stand as one in facing down this fundamental breach of our independence and the cherished tradition of appointing the most senior and unblemished judicial officers to fill the vacant positions of the heads of courts of the states and/or federal judiciaries,” NBA said.

FIDA: It’s a Violation of Ikpeme’s Human Right

Meanwhile, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) faulted the rejection of Justice Ikpeme by the Cross River State government, saying that it was discriminatory and constituted an abuse of her human right.

In a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Ms. Eliana Martins, the group appealed to Ayade and the Speaker of the state House of Assembly to retract their actions which it described as discriminatory and a breach of the constitution.

It argued that any discrimination based on the state of origin amounts to grave injustice especially since the constitution says the most senior judge of the High Court and not the most senior indigenous judge of the High Court.

“FIDA Nigeria restates that discrimination based on the state of origin amounts to grave injustice being that the constitution says, ‘the most senior judge of the High Court… and not the most senior indigenous judge of the High Court’.

“Since there is no legal impediment against Justice Ikpeme who qualifies, we can conclude that the rule of law supports her confirmation.
“The action of the Governor of Cross River State in appointing a junior judge instead of the Justice Ikpeme, who is the next senior judge in the hierarchy of Cross River State judiciary, is a grave injustice.”

“We, therefore, appeal to the governor and the Speaker of the state House of Assembly to retract his action which is discriminatory and a breach of the constitution.”