In agreement with the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC), the national leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has called on the government of Cross River state to appoint Justice Akon Ikpeme as substantive Chief Judge so as to avoid constitutional crisis in the state judiciary, saying reasons for her rejection was “untenable and unsubstantiated.”
Recall that the NJC had recommended Justice Ikpeme for Chief Judge appointment as the most senior Judge in the state judiciary, but the State House of Assembly had rejected her, saying she was a security risk because she comes from the neighbouring Akwa Ibom.
And, Gov Ayade had appointed the second most senior Judge, Justice Maurice Eneji, on acting capacity. Eneji’s second 3-months tenure expired on September 2, 2020 and since then, the Judiciary in Cross River had remained rudderless.
However, in a statement signed by its national president, Olumide Akpata, and dated 14th September 2020, the NBA said, “The hallowed office of the Chief Judge of the State has remained vacant for about two weeks following the expiration of the 3-month tenure of Hon. Justice Maurice Odey Eneji, who took office in acting capacity in line with the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as altered).
“The Constitution is designed to forestall any scenario involving a vacancy in the office of a Chief Judge; and the National Judicial Commission (NJC), in the proper exercise of its constitutional mandate, has made recommendations for the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge.
“The failure of, or refusal by, the government of Cross River State to complete the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge is, therefore, brewing a constitutional crisis and strikes at the very root of the rule of law. This vacancy is also crippling judicial activities and is undermining the independence of the judiciary in Cross River State.
“The NBA is particularly disturbed by the reasons undergirding the refusal, by the Cross River State House of Assembly, to confirm the recommendation and appointment of Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme as substantive Chief Judge. The NJC has unanimously agreed that the reasons adduced by the House of Assembly are untenable and unsubstantiated, and has reinforced its recommendation of Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme.
“The NBA agrees with the NJC in this regard and enjoins the Governor and the House of Assembly of Cross River State to complete the appointment and confirmation of Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme as substantive Chief Judge. To do otherwise would worsen the present imbroglio and significantly diminish public confidence in the judiciary.
“The NBA is working with the NJC to speedily resolve this issue before it does further damage to the public perception of the judiciary. It is our duty to defend the rule of law, and we will prod the government of Cross River State to appoint Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme as substantive Chief Judge, in line with the recommendations of the NJC and the long-held judicial tradition of appointing the most senior judicial officer as Chief Judge.
“There is no doubt that the casualties of this unfortunate development are the residents of Cross River State, who rely on the judiciary for the resolution of their disputes and for the remediation of their grievances. The NBA, therefore, calls on the government of Cross River State to put the interest of its people and the rule of law first by speedily resolving this constitutional crisis.”