Ntufam Mba Ukweni, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, is one of the citizens of Cross River State who is so passionate about equity and good governance, not just in the state but in the country at large. He is among the few who vowed that rule of law must prevail in the appointment of the chief judge of the state. In this interview with CHIEMEKA ADINDU he believes the governor, Professor Ben Ayade has been on the wrong path by trying to deny Justice Akon Ikpeme her opportunity of becoming the Chief Judge of the state.
Your dream of having Justice Akon Ikpeme as the Chief Judge of Cross River has become a reality. How do you feel about that?
Well, that’s the proper thing that should have been done from the beginning. And we’ve all said so; that is what we stood for and we are still standing by and I maintain that we would have done the same thing we did; we would have fought that same battle we fought for Akon if it were any other person. There is nothing personal in the issue, it is a professional thing and there is no how we would have allowed our profession to be rubbish by any person no matter how. No matter who he is, we cannot allow our profession to be rubbish by any person. It has not happened not even during the military era. The military even feared to trade that area; so where the devil feared, then the governor wants to dare it, no we will not allow it, it is not done. It is a profession we came to meet, we will all leave it and we have a legacy to bequeath to the people behind us; so what legacy would we have bequeathed if we had allowed such nonsense to take place and it is not done. This is the proper thing he was supposed to have done from the beginning and whatever cooperation he needs from us to enable the system function properly, we will do that. It is our system and it is our responsibility to ensure the system functions proper and you see how easy it is to do the proper thing. How long has it taken them to do the wrong one and they failed; but did it take them any effort? Effortlessly, so if you are sailing in line with the current, it moves smoothly but if you are sailing against the current, you have a difficult task. If God is not on the person’s side the current will sweep the person away and swallow the person and drown the person. So people should move along with the current.
The speaker said there were conflicting reports that caused the delay in the confirmation. Do you think so?
The speaker is my very good friend, I don’t want to join any issues with him on that. But as far as I’m concerned, may be the fresh investigation they have done might have revealed that they were wrong in the first place because I don’t see anything that would have made it otherwise. It couldn’t have been otherwise. I thank him that he has now seen the need to go and do the proper thing and he has done it. Even in his own home he will have peace, among us, he will have peace; so he also will know the value of ensuring the proper thing is done.
How about the speaker’s denial of the rumour that there was no report on security threat?
Well, we know better. They all said so, even the governor said so. The governor has given so many reasons but we don’t want to go into those issues for now. We want the system to function properly. All of us are tired of this unnecessary fight and struggle so now that the proper thing is being done, we want to return to our work and do the proper thing.
What does the confirmation mean to the judiciary, house of assembly and Cross Riverians?
Well, to the house of assembly, they have done the proper thing, they have peace; nobody is attacking them again on that. To Cross Riverians, it means a lot to us. It also means that proper thing can be done and people can insist for the proper thing to be done so Cross Riverians should rise up and ensure that they hold their leaders accountable in ensuring that proper things are done. To the judiciary, everybody is happy; we’re happy that rule of law has taken its cause and we’re happy about that. When the swearing in is done, whatever needs to be done; both the leadership of the bar in the state and the leadership of the bench, we will sit down and see how to ensure that the system functions properly and to harmonize the relationship existing between the judiciary, the executive and the legislature and at the bar; the bar and the bench. Because even the bar, I must be frank with you, the bar is polarized even though they are in a palpable minority.
What motivated you to stand behind Justice Ikpeme even at a time most of your colleagues and other reputable personalities in the state were not decisive about the matter?
I stood by the rule of law and justice, fairness, equity, and then I stood forth to ensure that posterity is there. Posterity should judge us properly because if as leaders, by the grace of God we are now the leaders of our profession, so we have a responsibility to the profession, to the society and to those who are coming into the profession tomorrow so they shouldn’t come in and then they don’t find a profession because the cause being traded by the governor was very dangerous, it has the effect of destroying the profession completely. So we can’t allow it.
Recall the things you were told all the while you stood your ground for equity and justice to prevail.
We will talk about those ones later, let’s not open old wounds. We are at the process of reconciliation now, let’s not open old wounds. But at the appropriate time, we will sit down and look at ourselves, maybe in a more relaxed atmosphere; both the governor, the governor is my friend, he said so repeatedly. The governor, the speaker are my clients; we will sit down in a more relaxed atmosphere and tell ourselves the truth that we went this way, what we did was not proper. Now that the proper thing is being done, let us sit together and then sit as leaders and see how the state can move forward and what we, each can contribute to the development of the state.
In other words, you feel this confirmation will make us see a harmony amongst the various arms of the government.
Of course. From yesterday, in fact from the moment the rumour came out that the confirmation was going to be done; if you go to the judiciary headquarters, you go to the various courts where they are, you will see that life has returned. On Monday, go to the judiciary headquarters and see if you will not see a lot of activities already coming. If you compare that with you see shortly after the tenure of Justice Eyo Ita ended and before then, you’ll see the difference.
There is rumour already flying that she must have reached some agreements with the governor before the confirmation was done.
I’m not aware of that. I can assure you that there’s nothing like that. There’s no need for the governor to become afraid of his own shadows; I said he’s being afraid of his own shadows because the judiciary by nature of our profession is a professional thing so he shouldn’t be afraid of anything. There’s no how, except he doesn’t want to do the proper thing, that’s when he should be afraid, except he doesn’t want to do the proper thing. There’s no need going to extract other thing or commitment with the chief judge. To do what; that if you have a case in Court, if you have a good case, the judge will see the evidence and the law supports you and will go and give a wrong judgment because he has understanding or he has a pact, it is the constitution that the judge swore to uphold and then we have our emblem of justice; it is that blind woman. The blind woman is there, it doesn’t see whether you’re the sister and it doesn’t see whether you’re the enemy. So he shouldn’t be afraid of anything. There’s no need to begin to extract some undertaken here and there. Those things are unnecessary and uncalled for.
What is your least expectation from her?
I have known her for a long time as a judge, I’ve know her as DPP in ministry of Justice so it would be embarrassing if she comes in under the saddle of the chief judge and then right under her watch, the judiciary degenerates or she fails to do what is proper thing to be done to uplift the judiciary and the legal profession. We expect her to ensure that there’s sanity in the judiciary. We expect her to ensure that justice delivery moves faster. We expect her to ensure that the judiciary staff function optimally. We expect her to ensure that whatever is due to her workers in the judiciary is made available to them.
When is her tenure likely to elapse?
That I cannot say for now, but she still has some time.