Prominent Nigerians have described the refusal of the Cross River State House, CRSHA of Assembly to confirm Justice Akon Ikpeme as substantive Chief Judge of the state on the ground that she hails from Akwa Ibom State as primitive and discriminatory.
Justice Ikpeme was first rejected on March 2, 2020, by the House of Assembly following which Governor Ben Ayade swore-in Justice Maurice Eneji as the acting Chief Judge of the state, after the lawmakers, screened and approved his appointment in an acting capacity.
The Assembly members insisted that though she is married to an indigene of the state, she is from neighboring Akwa Ibom State by birth and thus constitutes a security risk.
The House again at its sitting of June 2, 2020, rejected Justice Ikpeme nomination, after the NJC, for the second time, re-nominated her. The state House of Assembly argument this time was that it had taken a decision and would not reverse itself. Governor Ayade has subsequently requested from the NJC for an extension of the Justice Eneji acting period.
CRSHA action wrong —Air Commodore Idongesit (retd)
Reacting to the commotion the refusal of Justice Ikpeme has caused, former Military Administrator of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (retd), said: “What the Cross River State government has done is wrong whether you look at it from Christian religious practice or traditionally, it is very primitive.
And I don’t think other states practice that. “What is practiced in other states, even in civilized countries is that once a woman is married she automatically becomes an indigene, a citizen of her husband’s home place. They should have refused to marry her (Ikpeme).
“Why marry someone into your society when you know you will discriminate against the person. It is very, very bad. The Cross River State lawmakers should be ashamed of themselves.”
NBA should intervene —Eseme
Mr. Eseme Eyibo, a former member representing Eket federal constituency in the House of Representatives in his reaction urged the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, to ensure that the rule of law is upheld regarding the issue.
He said: “Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State, was very unprofessional in that delinquent act of executive rascality in his refusal to nominate Justice Ikpeme, the duly qualified, unblemished and first among equals in the state judiciary as the state Chief Judge.
“The Cross River State House of Assembly abused its constitutional responsibility to oversight the executive by it acquiescence to the spitting on the rule of law by the governor.
“The NBA must rise on its feet and add flavour to the National Judicial Council, NJC’s demonstration against the rule of a man recently enthroned in Cross River State to benefit the rule of law and enrich our constitutional democracy.”
A’Ibom Assembly to meet CRSHA over the impasse
Meanwhile, the leadership of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly is making arrangements to meet with their Cross River State counterpart to see how the issue could be settled amicably.
The member representing Etinan State constituency, and Chairman House Committee on Information, Mr. Aniekan Dennis who disclosed this to Vanguard Law and Human Rights, expressed concern that as state lawmakers, what they will do is to make a passionate appeal to their Cross River colleagues to reconsider their decision on the issue.
Dennis said: “We cannot interfere in this because Justice Ikpeme is married to a Cross Riverian, so automatically she is from there. But we don’t know the reason our brothers in Cross River State House of Assembly have refused to confirm her as the state Chief Judge.
“However, we are trying to reach out to them to see what could be done. The Speaker of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly is trying to get in touch with the Speaker of Cross River State House. It is something that we can settle amicably.”
He cited examples where prominent female Nigeria leaders were appointed into key political positions based on where their husbands hail from, “And that is how it is supposed to be. And the law requires the Cross Rivers State House of Assembly to confirm Justice Ikpeme as the substantive Chief Judge of the state.”
Refusal discriminatory, unconstitutional —Akuma, SAN
Speaking on the issue, Chief Solomon Akuma, SAN and former Attorney General of Abia State, said: “The allegations against her Lordship is spurious and unfounded. The refusal of Cross River State House of Assembly to confirm Justice Ikpeme is very discriminatory and unconstitutional and should be condemned by every right thinking and reasonable Nigerian.”
It’s an ugly development —Ex-AG
Also, former Attorney General of Cross River under Sen. Liyel Imoke, Attah Ochinke said, “It’s an ugly development. If her rejection was on the basis of not being from Cross River which is even not correct because her mother is from here then, it is purely discriminatory and shouldn’t be.
“What the CRSHA is doing to Justice Ikpeme is highly unconstitutional. The constitution provides that no one should be discriminated against by the reason of several factors including circumstances of birth, place of origin, state of origin, religion, gender, and so on.
“If the House is saying because her father is from Akwa Ibom, so she can’t be Chief Judge of Cross River, then that is pure discrimination by the Cross River State House of Assembly because she has been here all her life.”
Ayade wants to bring ethnic politics into judiciary —Ekpo
On his part, a former Attorney General under Donald Duke administration, Eyo Ekpo, said the Cross River State House of Assembly was merely playing out the scripts of Governor Ayade.
Ekpo said there was no need to pretend about the matter as the truth behind the rejection was simply for the fact that Governor Ayade doesn’t want Justice Ikpeme to become the Chief Judge of Cross River.
He said, “The CRSHA is just carrying out their rubber stamp function. There is no constitutional justification for what the CRSHA is doing because it is purely tribalistic.
“They want to change the structure of the judiciary by politicizing what doesn’t need any form of politics. A matter like this is very clear, it is a matter of seniority, every lawyer knows this.
“She should never have been rejected in the first place, it’s just travesty. There is no deficiency on her part, she is very qualified. There is no justification in the constitution for their action.
“I don’t want to get into this issue of Cross River and Akwa Ibom. From the inception of Nigeria, judges are never appointed on the basis of their state of origin. We have had two people who were not from Nigeria who became Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN.
“There has never been a time in the history of this country that the state of origin became criteria for appointing a Chief Judges or judges in any state in Nigeria.
“If the House wants to impose a candidate against the judiciary, then they should have a basis but they don’t. They will never and can never have a justification for what they were doing.
“In fact, Justice Ikpeme is a CrossRiverian, she was born in Calabar by a Calabar mother, she has lived in Cross River all her life, paid all her taxes here and has never for once claimed Akwa Ibom State.
“Also, Akwa Ibom was created out of Cross River even at that time the father was a CrossRiverian, today Akwa Ibom came out Cross River, tomorrow another state could come out from them too.
“Let us call a spade a spade, the reason why the CRSHA is doing what they are doing is that they are simply Governor Ayade rubber stamp.
“If Ayade doesn’t want her, then it should be made clear, all this rejection is a pretext, a dishonorable pretext, to tell the world that because she is from Akwa Ibom is very dishonorable. There are examples in Bayelsa, River states, who have Chief Judges who are not indigenes of the state.
“What is the House really looking for, it’s simply what is written on the face of Ayade because they know that the governor doesn’t want her and I must say that what the governor is doing is unbecoming. He is hiding behind the House but history and time will expose all.
“The person they want will never be Chief Judge and by this action, the governor has set himself against the entire Nigerian judiciary because Ikpeme’s position should never be politicised.
“The same way the House cannot take a junior member and make him the Speaker, what the legislature cannot do or allow in the cadre, is the same thing they want to perpetuate in the judiciary, yet the Speaker of the House wants a junior judge to supplant a senior because the governor wants it to be so.
“If the House said they had reason to doubt her capacity, they should have done it on their own, but it’s simple, they are doing the bid of Ayade, he has brought ethnic politics into the judiciary.
“If the House was in doubt of her seniority and capacity, they would have said so with one voice, it is the doing of the governor of Cross River State and it shows that the man does not have regard and love for this state, otherwise, he would not create this kind of confusion.
“He has now brought ethnic politics into the Judiciary, he can do that in other sectors but not the judiciary. Every lawyer knows the truth, things are done based on rank, we have a hierarchy and every lawyer knows this. In fact, no lawyer would want to be supplanted by a junior one.
“We are destroying the traditions and principles. We have destroyed the traditions of the Bar because of one person’s ethnic bias. He will need this thing he wants to destroy one day and it won’t be there for him, mark my words.”
Denying her the position is hypocrisy — Essien
Also reacting, Rev Kufreabasi Essien of the Department of Physics, University of Uyo, Uniuyo, said: “Since she is married to an indigene of Cross River State and coming from the aspect of the law, she has the right to take up an elective position or an appointment in Cross River State.
“This development also points out the fact that we Christians claim to be Christians but denying her that position is a demonstration of the hypocrisy of Christianity. They are being hypocritical and we should drop this generational hatred. We should begin to love ourselves.
“She should be allowed to take up that position except they say she is not a Nigerian. Why do we discriminate?”
Ayade is only being biased — Peters
Similarly, Akwa Ibom State-based legal practitioner, Mr. Mfon Peters, said: “My comment on this is very simple. The fact that she is married to a Cross River man automatically makes her an indigene of Cross River State. You cannot detract that.
“And when a Chief Judge of a state resigns, dies, or retires, the oldest judge takes over. It is automatic. And for the fact that Justice Ikpeme’s biological father is from Akwa Ibom State should not stop her from being appointed into that position she merited.
“Governor Ben Ayade is only biased and tribalistic. And such things are not known in the judiciary. And whether he likes it or not Justice Ikpeme will be the CJ, even if it is for one day. He cannot deny her that because she is the next to occupy that position in the state. That is the position of the law, not my position.
“It is unfortunate that the Cross River State House of Assembly is filled with ‘yes men’, the governor’s bootlickers. I know that the Lawmaker from the local government where Justice Akon Ikpeme’s husband hails from is the only one who spoke against the action of their governor.”
CRSHA decision wrong, myopic—Thomas
Also, a human rights lawyer, Mr. Clifford Thomas, described the action of the Cross River State House of Assembly as wrong and myopic, adding “It is sad and unfortunate that instead of upholding the rule of law, they are trying to destroy it.”