Former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) has taken a swipe on the Cross River State government over current quagmire in the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge for the state.
Recall that for about 10 months now, the state has remained without a substantive Chief Judge since the retirement of Justice Michael Edem as the state government and the State House of Assembly preferred a junior judge, Justice Maurice Eneji to emerge over his senior Justice Akon Ikpeme on grounds that Ikpeme is a security risk to the state as she is from a sister state, Akwa Ibom, but married to a Cross Riverian.
This position has pitched the state government against the National Judicial Council (NJC) which is insisting on the right thing to be done by maintaining the order of seniority which is sacrosanct in the Judiciary. As a result, the state has remained without a substantive Chief Judge as the tenure of Justice Eneji, who presided over the State Judiciary on acting capacity twice (6 months) ended in September 2, 2020. Before Eneji, Ikpeme had acted for three months.
In a Special Court session in honour of a late lawyer, Mr. Oriri Ekom Oriri, presided over by Justice Ayade Emmanuel Ayade, the former Leader of the 7th Senate said “today the judiciary of Cross River State is passing through a most needless and indeed useless crisis of succession. I say needless and useless because if we had simply done what is right we will not be in this quagmire. Justice, fairness and correctness are without colour, they are unisex and are without tribe or ethnic coloration.
“Therefore to ethnicize justice in anyway, especially by us lawyers, is to betray and belittle our calling… lawyers should not sell themselves to politicians including myself. If they want zoning they should abandon the practice and join us politicians in the trenches. Today there is no leadership in the judiciary of Cross River State as a result of which decisions cannot be taken and new cases cannot be assigned. This of course will negatively impact on the economy of lawyers and their professional growth all because the powers that be insist on their personal choices against the clear provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
Ndoma-Egba said, “a judiciary that was the pride of the nation, a judiciary that once had Sir Darnley Alexandar, a West Indian, as Chief Justice (as they were then called) cannot today have a Chief Judge, who spent all her life in Calabar and her working life with the Government of Cross River State, married to a prominent Efik whose children are Efik, because she is from Akwa Ibom State, though Cross River by marriage.
“This is a State where Anijah Obi (an Ibo) was Solicitor General and Atakora Amoo (a Ghanaian) was Director, Civil Litigation, a State that had one of the earliest contacts with Western Civilization with an urbane and global view of issues retreating into an ethnic cocoon.
“This is certainly not what we want to look like or be remembered for, definitely not for a State that has produced two Chief Justices of the Federation, one of whom our own Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen is totally home grown, Dr. Okoi Arikpo SAN, Louis Edet, Chief Effiom Ekong SAN, Kanu Agabi SAN, Dr. Mathew Mbu, Justice Edem Koofreh, Margaret Ekpo, Dan Archibong and many more. This is the State where Justice Wallace R.T. Macaulay served as Attorney-General, judge of the High Court and later Court of Appeal.
“Why in God’s name are we retreating from the world to a closet, yet we claim to be promoting tourism. I do not pray that this should be Governor Ben Ayade’s legacy. He is a lawyer. The right thing should be done so that we can move on. Power is transient and it is only useful if used for the common good and to promote the constitution, our laws, justice and equity.
“We must respect the sanctity of marriage and protect the family which is the foundation of society and we Roman Catholics believe is the first Church. Let us do right even if the heavens fall. I plead with their Lordships not to lend themselves to politicians, including me”.
On the deceased, he said, “Oriri’s remains lying before us should remind all of us of our mortality. As one student in St. Thomas’s College Ogoja creatively said in an essay about the death of a relation “what was once vertical is now horizontal”. Oriri’s horizontal fate today is a fate that awaits us all for every mortal shall taste death, when or how we know not”.