By Okon N. Efut, SAN

Understandably, this issue will not just go away until justice is done and seen to be done. Somehow, I had resolved to maintain a studied silence on all issues pertaining to the judiciary of this great nation. However, the situation in the Cross River State Judiciary appears to be degenerating to an abysmal level.

Gov. Ben. Ayade is at the very centre of the calamity that has befallen the Cross River State Judiciary, with each High Court Judge clamouring to become an Acting Chief Judge. The State Judiciary has been thoroughly desecrated and humiliated by the very person who should treat it with some awe and reverence.

The judiciary, the world over, is the last HOPE of all men, not just the common man. It is as ancient as time itself. No mortal being, no matter how highly placed, should exercise authority in a manner to whittle or emasculate or render impotent the sanctity, independence and integrity of the judiciary on the altar of politics and ethnicity.

Sadly, Gov. Ben Ayade has done just that. He has continued to act as if the Constitution does not matter. He has persisted in dramatizing his disdain for the rule of law. He has eroded the very essence of our national ethics. The 1999 Constitution is clear on the appointment of a Chief Judge of a State.

The Constitution is equally very clear on the qualification of a person to hold the office of the Chief Judge of a State. Any perceived ambiguity in this regard can only be self-serving and ill-motivated for political reasons.

If the provisions of the Constitution were followed, devoid of any political or ethnic coloration, the process of appointing the Chief Judge of Cross River State would have been seamless, rancour-free and timely.

The only reason why the case of Cross River State Judiciary is different and appears problematic is because Gov. Ben Ayade, who should observe, protect and defend the Constitution has sadly resolved to go against the Constitution.

It is a shame indeed. To hide under the veneer of “security risk” to deny Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme her constitutional right to hold the office of Chief Judge of Cross River State is not only wanton but wicked. It has exceeded the limits set by our common humanity and civility.

It is a shameful display of executive lawlessness and pettiness. It does not speak the language of Cross River State. The Cross River language is hospitality and accommodation. His conduct equally runs contrary to our national ethics as enshrined in Section 23 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which provides that:-

“The national ethics shall be Discipline, Integrity, Dignity of labour, Social Justice, Religious Tolerance, Self-reliance and Patriotism”.

Even if Gov. Ben Ayade has chosen to act unlawfully in relation to this grave issue of concern, he should at least maintain some level of discipline, integrity and patriotism in matters of great concern to our democratic ethos and institutions. The Judiciary in Cross River State does not deserve this onslaught from someone who should see himself as a learned gentleman.

I therefore call on the Governor of Cross River State to act as “His Excellency”, an appellation he shares with Almighty God (The Most Excellency), and stop the serial appointments of Acting Chief Judge of Cross River State, and proceed to appoint Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme as the substantive Chief Judge of Cross River State.

She is eminently qualified for that office, she is without blemish, and she should not be denied her constitutional and basic human right on the basis of primitive or primordial sentiments.

To do, or continuing to do, otherwise can only portray Gov. Ben Ayade and all those supporting his onslaught on the Cross River State Judiciary as the real “Security Risk” to the good people of Cross River State.

Efut is a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria

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