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Cross River bows to pressure, confirms Ikpeme as chief judge

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After 13 months of being stubborn Cross River state executive and House of Assembly, yesterday, bowed to pressure by confirming Justice Akon Ikpeme as Chief Judge (CJ).

Since retirement of Justice Michael Edem in November 2019, Cross River has remained without a substantive chief judge, following disagreement between the state government and the National Judicial Council (NJC).

The NJC wanted due process followed and the most senior judge appointed as CJ, but the state government wanted its favourite candidate, a junior judge, to emerge.
Governor Ben Ayade had in November 2019, after much pressure, sworn-in Justice Ikpeme, being the most senior judge, as acting chief judge. But three months after the expiration of her acting tenure, the House of Assembly, through alleged manipulation by the executive arm, declined to confirm Justice Ikpeme on grounds that she is from Akwa Ibom State and will constitute a security risk despite the fact that she is married to a Cross River husband and her mother is from same state.

Consequently, the governor sworn in a junior judge, Justice Maurice Eneji, as acting CJ twice, as NJC declined to recommend him for appointment as a substantive chief judge. This forced Ayade to, on October 19, 2020, swear in Justice Eyo Effiom Ita to serve as acting CJ, making it a third time the position would be occupied in acting capacity, Justice Eneji having been there twice. Ita’s tenure ended on January 18, 2021 as NJC declined to make any extension, insisting the most senior judge should be sworn-in.

Following further pressure from some senior advocates of Nigeria and other eminent Nigerians in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states as well as the media, Governor Ayade, in a letter dated January 20, 2021, asked House of Assembly to confirm Ikpeme as chief judge.

During a brief sitting that lasted less than an hour, the House unanimously confirmed Ikpeme to be sworn in as the substantive CJ. Speaking to newsmen after the sitting, the Speaker, Eteng Jonah Williams, said: “Her confirmation is for stability of the judiciary and we felt Cross Riverians are suffering a lot. Because of that, we have done our job, which is to stabilise the judiciary.

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