By Our Reporter
Reactions have continued to trail reports linked to the outcome of the National Judicial Commission’s (NJC) 91st meeting held online on 22nd and 23rd April, 2020, particularly regarding the swearing in of Justice Akon Ikpeme as the substantive Chief Judge of Cross River state.
Pillar Today had reported that sources in Abuja had claimed that, “The NJC unanimously agreed that Justice Ikpeme could not be a security risk considering the fact that all security agencies in the country had cleared her. Accordingly they turned down the State government’s request for the NJC to accept another person insisting that Justice Ikpeme remained the most senior judge in the Cross River state Judiciary.”
Reacting to the report, a legal luminary in Calabar, Barr Mba Ukweni said “Yes we have heard the position taken by the National Judicial Council (NJC) but we want it to be officially communicated to the governor. The Secretary of the NJC, it is his usual practice to make an official communication to the governor letting him know the decision of the NJC.
“What the NJC decided was our tradition. The secretary of the NJC in his usual practice will make a communication to the governor letting him know the decision of the NJC. What the NJC decided was expected because that is our tradition and we follow rules guided by the law.
“It would have been the end of the system if the NJC had decided differently because they will be moving against their own rules. Like I told you, it came as a birthday gift to me because the governor said what the House of Assembly did was a birthday gift to him so what the NJC did was a birthday gift to me and I am very happy about it.
“It makes for order in the system because a situation where the governor will just wake up and say this is the person I want, is wrong. It is an independent arm of government and for us to allow politicians at that level to penetrate the judiciary to the point in which it wanted to penetrate, it would have been a complete destruction of the system and it would have been bad for everybody.
“So we insisted on what we insisted on not because we are not friends or brothers to Eneji or we hate him but it is also in the interest of Justice Eneji himself because he cannot wake up tomorrow and they say Justice Eneji you are no more number two, go and be number five, he will not be happy.
“So this is a tradition we want to maintain so that we can have order and the judiciary should be independent and given the opportunity to its work as the third arm of government that is supposed to evaluate and checkmate the other two arms. To surrender the judiciary to the executive or legislature completely and say they should manipulate the judiciary the way they want, then we are finished.”
However, Mr Christain Ita, Chief Press Secretary/Special Adviser to Gov Ben Ayade on Media, has submitted that nothing was discussed about Cross River state during the said meeting.
Ita, who forwarded to Pillar Today a document titled ‘BREAKING: NJC suspends two judges for falsifying age, failing to give judgement,’ said Pillar Today could have confirmed the reports randomly before making it go public.
The Chief Press Secretary said that from the document available to him on the NJC meeting, two judges were recommended for compulsory retirement after the Council found them guilty of gross misconduct and that Gov Ben Ayade was never asked to swear-in Justice Ikpeme as contained in Pillar Today’s report.
The document, which the CPS made available to this reporter, gave the names of the affected Judges as Hon. Justice Francis Chukwuma Abosi, Acting President, Customary Court of Appeal, Imo State and Hon. Justice Aliyu Musa Liman of Bauchi State High Court of Justice.
But, Pillar Today sources, when contacted again, insisted that Cross River state matter was discussed extensively and that people were trying to play politics with the development, saying that he was sure plans were underway for an official letter to be forwarded to the Governor on the matter.