Wednesday, 26 February 2020

"That matter is closed" Eteng turns down deliberations on non-confirmation of state chief judge


The Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Eteng Jones Williams has said that he is not aware that the state acting chief judge has not been confirmed as he is yet to receive any correspondence to that effect. 

The House had on Tuesday turned down deliberations of the non-confirmation of the Chief Judge, Justice Akon Ikpeme, who had been in acting capacity for some months.

This happened when Hon Ekpo Ekpo Bassey, a member representing Bakassi state constituency drew the attention of the House over the non-confirmation of the Justice Akon Ikpeme on the floor of the House on Tuesday, the Speaker, Hon Eteng Williams shouted him down saying that the matter was not listed for discussion.

Reacting, the Speaker said, "That is not our rules, what you are asking is not before us, we cannot treat that today, it is not before us, if it is a matter that is before us we will treat it, it was not listed. That matter is closed.

"We are all Cross Riverians, we know the danger of not confirming the Acting Chief Judge but it is not before us today, I am not aware of any correspondence on the confirmation of Chief Judge, I am not aware, that matter is closed," the speaker hit the gavel.

Speaking with DAILY POST shortly after the sitting, the Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Public Petition, Public Service Matters and Conflict Resolution, Hon Efa Nyong Esua said the Speaker was trying to throw the state into a constitutional crisis, saying, "It will lead to anarchy because when you have a State without a Chief Judge, armed robbers will be on the increase."

"On 9th December 2019, the Chief Justices of the Federation wrote to the Governor of Cross River State, Prof Ben Ayade recommending Justice Akon Ikpeme as the Acting Chief Justice of the State.

"Before now, there were two names forwarded, Justice Akon Ikpeme and Justice Maurice Eneji, Governor preferred Justice Eneji who is the junior at the bench to Akon Ikpeme. You know Judicial procedures, it is hierarchy, people rose up against that decision including senior lawyers such as SAN, some went to courts and got court order stopping that process.

"Thereafter, Chief Justice of the Federation, sitting as the Chairman of National Judicial Commission (NJC) now recommended to the Governor of the Cross River State Hon Akon Ikpeme for her names to be forwarded to the House of Assembly for confirmation.

"Governor judiciously did that since on the 9th of January 2020, recommending Justice Akon Ikpeme, so the next thing would have been for the correspondence to be laid on the table and referred to the committee which I am the Chairman, for proper screening of the woman and bring a report forward which we would be our resolutions to the Governor for the woman to be sworn in.

"There are five States involved, Ekiti, Rivers, Sokoto were some of the States involved alongside Cross River State in this process, all other four States have their Chief Judge in place since but up till now, Mr Speaker has refused to bring up the letter to the table.

"That is why, when I saw correspondence on confirmation of the list of 70 Special Advisers, a letter that was received yesterday and brought up today, as compare to a letter that came since on the 9th of January 2020 and up till now not read, I needed to find out what the problem was and of course you heard him, he said it was not listed.

"We saw the hands of Pharaoh and the body is Esau, because if you go to him on one on one, he will tell you, he is waiting to hear from the Governor, that they intend to extend the tenure of the woman by another three months which is not possible, the provision is simple, you can only extend when the NJC has not recommended, once there is a recommendation, it is not possible.

"My worry, why I had to bring it up is the attendance effect to the state, because we are not going to have a CJ, no Judge will be appointed from CRS to either court of Appeal or Federal High Court because of this impasse," he stated

The Chairman further said that the crime rates would be on the increase because we will not have a Chief Judge that will assign cases, even the purported local government elections that they want to conduct, an acting Chief Judge cannot set up a petition tribunal because that ought to be in place 30 days for the election and it must be done by substantives Chief Judge.

"The right thing has to be done, we cannot be presiding over the temple of justice and then doing injustice in the names of tribes and whatever," he stated.