Governor Ben Ayade, Monday, swore in Justice Akon Bassey Ikpeme as the new Chief Judge, being the second female to sit on the saddle.
The swearing in is seen as a confirmation of reports published by Pillar Today newspaper over the Cross River Chief Judge saga, as well as a display of high level of professionalism and investigative abilities of the newspaper.
Recall that Pillar Today had on April 24, 2020, reported that the National Judicial Council (NJC), in its 91st meeting held online on 22nd and 23rd April, 2020, rejected the appointment of any other person as a substantive Chief Judge other than Ikpeme, and that the Council had directed the Governor to swear in Justice Ikpeme.
In the said report, which had the headline ‘Breaking News: NJC Directs Ayade to Swear in Justice Ikpeme,’ Pillar Today had insisted 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.”
However, the report did not go down well with a cross section of many in the corridor of power and other sycophants who took time to berate and attack the newspaper for purportedly publishing ‘fake’ reports on the matter.
However, in a dramatic turn of event, the State House of Assembly, on January 28, 2021, suddenly realized its mistake over the Chief Judge saga and with dispatch confirmed Ikpeme’s nomination in less than 30 minutes during an emergency session.
The Assembly Speaker, Rt Hon Eteng Jones William, said the House changed its mind about Ikpeme because lawmakers received new facts about her eligibility and capacity to move the State Judiciary forward without hitches.
“We got new facts, new documents that we needed. New reports were sent to us on the matter and we did our findings and we are satisfied, and so we had to confirm her. Her appointment will stabilise the State Judiciary. For us, we feel Cross Riverians are suffering over the matter,” William had told Journalists.
Justifying the sudden turn in Ikpeme’s favour, the Secretary to the State Government, Barr Tina Agbor, said the new Chief Judge has now fulfilled certain constitutional requirement which government was looking for, hence her swearing in.
The swearing in of Justice Ikpeme in the Executive Council Chamber of the Governor’s Office on Monday, February 8, 2021, came 14 months after the retirement of former Chief Judge, Mike Edem, on November 2019.
This was after two junior Judges had taken their turn on the saddle for nine months after Ikpeme had earlier served for three months on acting capacity between December 3, 2019 and March 2, 2020.
Speaking during the historic swearing in, the Governor described Justice Ikpeme as “a child of God who God has destined for this office,” and charged her to be fair to all, including those who stood stoutly against her elevation, so as to move the Judiciary in particular and Cross River state in general, forward.
“As God touched my heart, so did he touch the heart of everyone saddled with taking the decision in your favour and that had manifested in your swearing in today,” he told the elated Justice Ikpeme.
Describing the new Chief Judge as the right person for the plum job, the Governor said Ikpeme was being sworn in at the right time and that despite the episodes of the last few months which worked against her, she was indeed God’s choice and that her swearing in was ordained by God.
“As a child of God and a child that God has destined for this office, I believe that God will touch your soul to ensure that no injustice is done to anybody who comes before you to seek justice. Please dispense justice, be fair and know that God fought your battles.
“God has chosen, by His infinite mercy, for Cross River State, not just any person to be the chief judge, but a woman; a woman with great conscience, a woman of God, a leader in the church, and a covenant child. I believe that she will put behind her all the challenges of getting here and to know that God has prevailed.
“I have had very close relationship with her and it appears to be that she is here at the right time and she is the right person for this job,” the Governor submitted, and called for support for the new Chief Judge saying with Ikpeme as head of the Judiciary, legislative and judicial arms of government can be sure of a robust relationship.
Ayade, who said he was thankful that the long drawn saga over the appointment of a new chief judge had finally come to an end, noted that stability in the judiciary would be guaranteed with the emergence of a substantive chief judge and that since the state was passing through challenging period in its history, government would want the Judiciary to remain rancour-free.
“As a maritime state bounded by very hostile international communities, the Cameroun and more recently the Ambazonian people, it is obvious and clear for us as a state that we have a lot of trans-boundary matters to deal with. We have a lot of internal crisis among the indigenes, the ethnic nationalities that constitute Cross River State. The judiciary therefore, will be bedeviled with so much crisis and tension that we cannot afford a distraction,” he said.
In her remarks, Justice Ikpeme promised that the judiciary under her watch would collaborate with the other two arms of government to bring about good governance for the people of Cross River State.
She said, “Let me assure His Excellency and the people of Cross River state that the Judiciary under my watch shall cooperate with the Executive and the Legislative arms to move Cross River state forward.
On issue of being fair to all, including her detractors, as demanded by the Governor, Justice Ikpeme said, “We have put the past behind us. It would be foolhardy to dwell there. Every member of the Cross River State Judiciary shall be carried along and we shall ensure Justice and fairness to all.”
She thanked the governor for enabling history to be created with her swearing in as Chief Judge of the state, and added “God uses men to fulfill His purpose on earth, Your Excellency, from the depth of my heart I want to tell you thank you, I thank you for making this day a reality.”