BY: VITALIS UGOH, Çalabar
As the crisis over the refusal by the Cross River Government to appoint a new State Chief Judge lingers on , former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) has lambasted the government saying “this is needless and indeed useless quagmire” against the state and the judiciary”.
The appointment of a substantive Chief Judge for the state had dragged for over 10 months now without the state government under the leadership of governor Ben Ayade doing the needful and putting the matter to rest as a leader.
The state had 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.
Their grounds include, “Ikpeme is a security risk to the state as she is from a sister state, Akwa Ibom but married to a Cross Riverian”.
The National Judicial Council (NJC) had insisted that the right thing 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 twice acting tenure (six months) of Justice Eneji ended in September 2, 2020. Before Eneji, Ikpeme had acted for three months.
Reacting on the non appointment of a senior lawyer as Chief Judge in a Special Court session in honour of alate lawyer, Mr. Oriri Ekom Oriri, presided over by Justice Ayade Emmanuel Ayade, the former Leader of the 7th Senate retorted “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”.
He 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 urban 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. 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 Ogqja 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”.