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Lawyers protest in Cross River as gov swears in third acting CJ

By Agosi Todo and Anietie Akpan, Calabar
20 October 2020   |   3:37 am
Legal practitioners in Cross River State have taken to the streets of Calabar protesting against the long absence of a substantive Chief Judge (CJ) in the state.

Lawyers protesting against appointment of substantive Chief Judge in Calabar, Cross River State…yesterday PHOTO: TINA TODO

Legal practitioners in Cross River State have taken to the streets of Calabar protesting against the long absence of a substantive Chief Judge (CJ) in the state.

The Concerned Lawyers, who assembled at the Judiciary Headquarters in Calabar yesterday before taking their protest to the Governor’s Office, lamented that the absence of a substantive CJ created a vacuum in the judiciary.

Speaking on behalf of the lawyers, Effiom Ayi said never in the history of the state had there been avoidable bickering and dirty politics in the judiciary.

Ayi lamented: “We cannot, in all sense of responsibility, say that after 318 days, Cross River State cannot have a CJ in substantive capacity.

“As at October 16, 2020, over 100 cases, including fundamental rights action filed by citizens, could not be assigned or heard.”

The group, however, called on the executive and legislative arms of the government to immediately instal a substantive CJ, in line with the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC).

They also called for the recall of the 40 magistrates removed from the state’s payroll and the renovation of courts across the state.

At the Governor’s Office, the Permanent Secretary in the Special Services Office, Alfred Mboto, tried unsuccessfully to address the protesters.

Even the Deputy Governor, Professor Ivara Esu, who came out to speak, was asked to leave because he was not a lawyer and could not act since Governor Benedict Ayade was available.

In 11 months, Ayade has sworn in three chief judges in acting capacity. As he was inaugurating the third one yesterday at the State Executive Council chamber of the Governor’s Office, some young lawyers in the state and the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) embarked on a peaceful demonstration through the streets of Calabar and blocking the Governor’s Office.

Ayade swore in Justice Eyo Ita as the state’s new acting CJ in a brief ceremony that was witnessed by the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Eteng Jones; the deputy governor, senior lawyers and judges, as well as the chairman of the state branch of NBA, Dr. Paul Ebiala.

The governor had in November last year, after much pressure, sworn in the most senior judge in the state as acting CJ, but three months after when the tenure expired, the House of Assembly declined to confirm her, on the grounds that she’s from Akwa Ibom State and would constitute a security risk.

It is noteworthy that she is a citizen by marriage and her maternal home also is Cross River.

The governor said the swearing-in was “in keeping with the obligations and provisions of the constitution, particularly with reference to section 217.”

He apologised for the delay in the appointment of a new CJ, saying that the state was awaiting communication from the NJC, which last Wednesday decided that “the next in ranking be appointed as acting CJ.”