Chiemeka ADINDU, Calabar
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Ntufam Mba Ukweni has maintained that the swearing in of Justice Eyo Ita as the Acting Chief Judge of Cross River State will not bring a solution to the problem which he believed was created by the state governor, Prof. Ben Ayade.
Ukweni who spoke with TNN on the development was of the opinion that the governor made the appointment as a result of too much pressure from senior lawyers in the state and to stop the lawyers from their demonstration as a result of the vacuum since the past 46 days.
He faulted the governor’s claim that it was the National Judicial Council, NJC that made the recommendation, stressing that both the NJC and senior lawyers in the state cannot go back to alter the already position taken and the recommendation of Justice Akon Ikpeme who is the most senior judge in the state.
He said: “I do not agree that the NJC recommended another acting chief judge after they have made a recommendation for a substantive chief judge. That does not seem to be correct because the National Judicial Council cannot act in an inconsistent manner.
“This is a clear indication that all is not well. It’s like having three acting governors at the same time. So, all is not well. The truth which the governor has refused to tell Cross Riverians is that he doesn’t want to comply with the recommendation of the National Judicial Council. So in order to circumvent that recommendation that is why he has gone ahead to appoint another person because he knows that the NJC will not recommend his person, Justice Maurice Eneji and he cannot appoint Justice Eneji as substantive chief judge without the recommendation of the NJC and the NJC’s recommendation cannot materialize without his own clearance and appointment.
“So he is just trying to walk away from doing what the National Judicial Council has recommended and the position taken by all of us, the senior lawyers in the state”.
The senior advocate also explained that the constitution gives the governor the power to appoint someone in acting capacity and that he cannot go beyond the acting capacity which will only be for 3 months. He said the constitution did that in fairness and good purpose to cover situations whereby a chief judge dies or is moved suddenly for other assignments.
He added that the provision for the governor to appoint a chief judge in an acting capacity was not done to be used for selfish and unfair purposes as governor Ayade is using it. “He is just trying to curtail the demonstrations that the lawyers are embarking upon to drive home their point that they are not happy with the governor.
“So he has made this quick one to go and swear in somebody in the belief that I have not left a vacuum in the office. I have now made an appointment. So that is what is moving him”, the SAN believed.
Responding if the acceptance on the side of Justice Ita was fair, he said; “Well, that is left for Justice Eyo Ita. That is left for him. I know that he has been approached before even though I know it was not well intentioned. But, he has been approached before and he turned it down until the National Judicial Council agrees to do so.
“But the National Judicial Council, like I have told you, have made their recommendation. So if the governor wants to exercise his power of appointing in acting capacity by appointing all the judges in Cross River state, he can go ahead and do that.
“This has not actually solved the problem, the only thing it has done is to remove Justice Eneji from Court 1 because if Justice Eyo Ita is sworn in, it means that Justice Eneji can no longer claim to be the acting chief judge because there is now someone in that capacity. So he will move to Court 3. He cannot move to Court 2 because Justice Akon Ikpeme rightly occupies that office as his senior in Court 2. So the new acting chief judge will move to Court 1 which is meant for the chief judge.
“The governor is not doing it in good faith. I am sure is not going to be happy doing it because it is not his wish. And at the same time, we are not also fully happy, not because we hold anything against Justice Eyo Ita. We have nothing against him. The appointment is not the solution to the problem he has created. The solution is to retransmit Justice Akon Ikpeme to the house of assembly and direct them to confirm her the same way he directed them not to confirm her”, Ukweni highlighted.
Meanwhile, the swearing in of Justice Eyo Effiom Ita as the acting chief judge of the state could not pacify aggrieved lawyers under the aegis of “concerned lawyers in Cross River” from embarking on their peaceful protest to lament their grievances on the indifference of the governor towards the recommendation of the NJC to appoint Justice Akon Ikpeme as the substantive chief judge of the state.
They also called on Governor Ayade to restore the names of the 40 magistrates in the state Ministry of Justice that were illegally removed and their salaries paid in full with compensation.
Recall that Justice Ita is the third acting chief judge to be sworn in by Ayade within 11 months.