C’River Goes 417 Days Without Substantive Chief Judge, as Eyo-Ita Bows Out

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The High Court of Cross River State have gone 417 days without a substantive Chief Judge when Justice Effiom Eyo-Ita served out his tenure in acting capacity at midnight of January 18, 2021.

 

This equates to 13 months or 60 weeks, over 10,000 hours, 600,000 minutes and about 36 million seconds.

The intrigues surrounding the head of that arm of government are hydra headed which saw the State go 46 days without anyone as head of the Judiciary in 2020 after the preferred nominee of Governor Ben Ayade, Justice Maurice Eneji served out two acting tenures between March 3rd and September 2nd 2020.

Justice Eneji was nominated alongside Justice Akon Ikpeme as a reserved candidate by the State Judicial Service Commission to the National Judicial Council (NJC) in 2019 and following an interview in December of same year, recommended Justice Ikpeme who was already in acting capacity as the most senior Judge since December 2, 2019.

Mr. Ayade had reluctantly swore in Justice Ikpeme three days after the retirement of Justice Michael Edem. Justice Edem retired on November 29, 2019 after serving as Chief Judge for two years, one month and 10 days from October 19, 2017.

The House of Assembly in a controversial sitting declined to confirm Justice Ikpeme on March 2, 2020 – her last day in office as acting Chief Judge.

And, despite the outcry and condemnations, Mr. Ayade went ahead to swear in Justice Eneji without recourse to the NJC and claimed he relied on Section 271 subsection 4.

Before the expiration of his acting tenure on June 2, 2020, the NJC had, according to a statement by Mr. Ayade’s spokesman, Christian Ita written the Governor approving Justice Eneji’s stay in office from June 3rd to September 2nd 2020. This meant Mr. Ayade’s plan worked as the act was in consonance with Section 271 subsection 5 as argued by some.

And, from September 3rd till the morning of October 19, 2020, the State had no head of Judiciary. Justice Eyo-Ita is said to have declined to acquiesce to Mr. Ayade’s request to be sworn in until the NJC approved his acting tenure which began exactly three years after the last substantive Chief Judge was sworn into office.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mba Ukweni told TNN that the NJC declined Mr. Ayade’s request to extend the acting tenure of Justice Oyo Ita. He said the Governor needed to transmit Justice Ikpeme’s name to the House of Assembly again to prevent lawyers from protesting as they did between October 19th and 20th 2020.

The next most Senior Judge is Justice S.M Anjor, and Ukweni said Mr. Ayade may just continue in that cycle.

“The junior lawyers may not be restrained from going to the streets any longer because it has become a cycle of shame, cycle of foolishness. You know this is a foolish act and you continue doing the same thing. If he can’t do that, the option open to him, is the cycle of foolishness I am talking about, is to appoint Honourable Justice S. M. Anjor as the fourth person in acting capacity who will stay for another 3 months.

“That is the major problem. The other one is the punishment the National Judicial Council has been meting on us. This is the third time judges are been appointed across the states of the federation and we don’t have one because of the attitude of the governor. The implication is that our number will continue depleting in the judiciary and we are not having our share with regards to the judiciary.

”His major agenda is to appoint his in-law, Maurice Eneji who will do his biddings, as the chief judge. He wants to appoint a crony so as to take over that office as he has taken charge of other arms of the government. That is the domineering pattern he wants to take”, he said.


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