By Ebunoluwa Sessou, Victoria Ojeme & Fortune Eromosele
International Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA, Nigeria; Women in Politics and National Council for Women Society, Nigeria, among others civil society organisations, have described the refusal of Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State and members of the state House of Assembly to confer Justice Akon Ikpeme as the Chief Judge of the state, as gross injustice.
In separate interviews with Vanguard Law and Human Rights, the groups cautioned that such injustice should be condemned and not be allowed in a decent society.
Speaking with Vanguard, FIDA Nigeria President, Rhoda Tyoden, disclosed that despite repeated advice, Professor Ayade and the members of the state Assembly have remained insensitive to the issue.
Decrying the refusal of Ayade to concede to the voice of reason, Tyoden said: “We are talking about someone who has been deprived of her rightful entitlement. Governor Ayade should as a matter of urgency, confer Justice Ikpeme as the Chief Judge of the state.
“He should not be rigid in his decision. He should not tell us that there is nothing he can do about that. Denying her right is gross injustice and discrimination.
“She started her career and she has attained the position of an acting Chief Judge of the state and yet the state assembly and the governor refused to make her the substantive Chief Judge. I do not know what else to call that rather than injustice and discrimination.
“The judiciary, as an arm of government, should be respected and I do not know how else one can convince him to do the right thing. Justice Ikpeme has paid her dues and should be given the position.
“Her foundational right has been breached because she is a Nigerian and being a woman, she has served and was found worthy to act as the Chief Judge of the state. She should not be denied her right at this time as the substantive judge.”
This shouldn’t happen in this age — Shoda
On her part, NCWS Nigeria President, Dr Gloria Shoda, described the reason given by the state assembly for the refusal to confirm Justice Ikpeme’s appointment as laughable.
She said: “The most senior judge in the state, Justice Ikpeme, who ought to be appointed as the chief judge in accordance with the Nigerian Constitution and legal tradition, has been disqualified by the state assembly, allegedly because of her family ties with neighbouring Akwa Ibom State.
“The governor has instead nominated the second most senior judge, Maurice Eneji, to replace Justice Ikpeme as acting chief judge, an action which lawyers, women in high positions, in the country described as preposterous.
“She was born in Calabar, Cross River, when Akwa Ibom was a part of Cross River. She is married to a man from Cross River, and has been working for decades as a judicial officer, including being a director of public prosecution, and a judge in Cross Rivers.
“There is no reason the state House of Assembly would reject Ikpeme the Chief Justice position of the state as she fits and qualifies for the position in all ramifications and should not have been rejected.”
Shoda suggested that Ikpeme may have been denied and refused the position because she is a woman.
According to her, “we are really wondering why she was denied being made a chief judge in Cross River. She is the most qualified and we do not know whether it’s because she is a woman. We are trying to see what we can do.
“We don’t know why a woman is getting to the peak of her career and is supposed to take over from a man and someone will say the woman is not qualified and that she can’t take over the seat.
“That’s another kind of corruption that is happening in this country. It is very worrisome because this is not a political appointment but a professional terrain.
“This is a woman who has risen through the ranks and when it is time for her to gain from her hard work, somebody is saying it is a man that will take over.
“If she has risen to that position, can we now say she’s not qualified? Why is it that it is at the peak of her career that they said she can’t occupy the office? If they have a concrete reason let them come up with it. They don’t have any reason apart from the fact that she’s a woman.
“Are we still in the Stone Age that we would be asking ourselves how can a woman rule us? Are we still in that age in Nigeria? We ought to have passed that stage.
“If we are still in that stage, then we have a long way to go. We are beckoning on the President to wade into this situation so that it can be stopped.”
It’s because she’s a woman — Ifendu
Speaking in the same vein, President, Women in Politics, Mrs Ebere Ifendu, said: “This is a woman who is qualified for this position. It is so clear and even the constitution is so clear on that.
“This is somebody who lived all her life in Cross River State, whose father worked and retired in the civil service. She lived there and she was born there and this was given before Akwa Ibom was removed from Cross River State.
“It is really a shameful thing because Nigeria is still thinking the way we ought not to be thinking. It is an injustice against her. It is an injustice to every woman in this country because you either choose your place of birth or your husband’s name.
“For example, Okonjo Iweala was a minister in this country and she represented Abia State, her husband’s state, while she is naturally from Delta State. This is something that can happen anywhere; it depends on the political will.
“That is where I have a problem with the governor of Cross River state. It is really a minus to his government.
“It is quite obvious that she was denied this post because she’s a woman: someone that is a chief judge and has all the necessary qualifications to attain the position of being a chief judge. It is very clear to us that she was denied because she’s a woman.”