By Bassey Inyang
The Cross River State House of Assembly for the second time has rejected the request by the National Judicial Council (NJC) seeking the confirmation of Justice Akon Ikpeme as the state’s substantive Chief Judge.
On March 2, the lawmakers had rejected a similar request from the NJC on the claim that Justice Ikpeme is a “security risk” to Cross River State, having originated by birth from an area that is currently in Akwa Ibom State, but married to a man from Cross River State, where she has worked in the state’s judiciary over the years to become the acting chief judge.
Following the rejection of Justice Ikpeme’s nomination, the state Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, swore in her junior on the bench, Justice Maurice Eneji, on March 3 as acting chief judge.
From indications, the NJC had insisted on the confirmation of Justice Ikpeme to function as substantive chief judge, and therefore sent a second letter asking for her confirmation by the lawmakers.
A correspondence from Ayade dated May 29, 2020 which was read to the lawmakers on Tuesday by the Clerk of the House, entitled “Re-affirmation of Honourable Justice Akon Ikpeme”; written by the secretary to the state Government, Tina Agbor, a lawyer, read in part: “I am directed by His Excellency, the Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, to convey the attached correspondent from the National Judicial Council on the above for your consideration and other necessary action.
“You are to treat the above with the urgency it deserves, in view of the emergency situation we fine ourselves in our world and to ensure that there is no vacuum in our judiciary and the concomitant effect in the entire political space as a result thereof.
“Please accept the kind regards of His Excellency, the Governor.”
After the letter was presented to the lawmakers, the Leader of the House, Peter Odey representing Ogoja State Constituency, moved a motion which was seconded by the Deputy Leader, Hon. Fred Osim representing Ikom I state Constituency, to the effect that the House cannot reverse itself on the issues bordering on the confirmation of Justice Ikpeme because there was no fresh information on the issue.
“The correspondence from the governor to the House is not new, and had been treated before,” Odey said.
There was no counter motion, prompting the Speaker of the Assembly, Eteng Jonah Williams, to put the motion to voice vote.
And those who were in support of the motion were in the majority, the speaker ruled.
Speaking to journalists after the sitting, the Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, Effa Esua, said he was sad over the resolution of the House.
Esua said the lawmakers’ decision has thrown the state judiciary into confusion and further crisis.
“It is sad and unfortunate that it is happening in a House that I am part of. It is the resolution of the House but as they say, we the minority have had our say and the majority have their way,” he said.
The lawmaker said Justice Eneji concludes his tenure by 12 midnight of Tuesday, June 2, 2020.
Esua said: “He took over from Justice Ikpeme who is the most senior in ranking as a Judge in Cross River State.
“The House on March 2nd 2020 refused to confirm her citing unsubstantiated security issues. She is not retired and the NJC has noted that she passed through the DSS screening without blemish and she is still in service and rightfully to one who should be the substantive Chief Judge of the state. Today the House has rejected her again and I think the drama is just unfolding and it may not be good for the state.”