Controversy trails NJC’s decision on Cross River judiciary crisis
As the judicial tussle in Cross River state lingers, there are indications that the National Judicial Council (NJC) under the Chairmanship of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, has ordered Governor Ben Ayade to swear in Justice Akon Ikpeme as the substantive Chief Judge of the State.
It was gathered that the NJC took the decision at its 91st meeting held virtually from April 22-23, 2020.But the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Publicity, Mr. Christian Ita, has debunked the claims.
Ita noted that “from the proceedings of meetings from the NJC, Justice Ikpeme was not discussed.” On March 2, the Cross River State House of Assembly had in a plenary session rejected the recommendation of Justice Ikpeme as the Chief Judge of the state on grounds that she is not an indigene of Cross River State and as such constitutes a security risk to the state if confirmed as the Chief Judge.
On March 3, Ayade swore in Justice Maurice Eneji as the acting Chief Judge of the state and forwarded his name to the NJC to for approval.Top Judiciary sources in Calabar said when the matter came up on Wednesday and Thursday for deliberation, the NJC after a protracted meeting, dismissed out-rightly allegations put forward by the state House of Assembly that Justice Ikpeme was a security risk.
The sources said: “NJC unanimously agreed that Justice Ikpeme could not be a security risk considering the fact that all security agencies in the country had cleared her. Accordingly, they turned down the state government’s request for the NJC to accept another person insisting that Justice Ikpeme remain the most senior judge in the Cross River State Judiciary. They may refer Justice Eneji to a disciplinary committee, but details of the meeting would be made public soon and an official letter communicated to the governor on their position.”
Ita, however, insisted that nothing like that was discussed, and that the issues that were discussed as signed by the Director of Information, Soji Oye, include the suspension of two Judges (not Cross River) and then recommending their compulsory retirement after finding them guilty of misconduct.
However, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in the state, Mr. Mba Okwenu, said he had heard about the NJC’s decision, adding that he expects the governor to be communicated officially.
“We have heard the position taken by the NJC but we want it to be officially communicated to the governor. It is the usual practice to make an official communication to the governor, letting him know the decision of the NJC. What the NJC decided was our tradition. The secretary of the NJC in his usual practice will make a communication to the governor. What the NJC decided was expected because that is our tradition and we follow rules guided by the law. It would have been the end of the system if the NJC had decided differently because they will be moving against their own rules,” he said.
Okwenu added: “Such decision makes for order in the system, because a situation where the governor will just wake up and say this is the person I want is wrong. The judiciary is an independent arm of government, and for us to allow politicians at that level to penetrate the judiciary to the point in which it wanted would have been a complete destruction of the system, and it would have been bad for everybody.
“So, we insisted on our stand, not because we are not friends or brothers to Eneji, or we hate him, but it is also in the interest of Justice Eneji himself because he cannot wake up tomorrow and they say Justice Eneji you are no more number two, go and be number five. He will not be happy.”
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