The National Welfare Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Kunle Edun, has said that the appeal pending before the Supreme Court in respect of Justice Akon Ikpeme will still proceed in spite of her recent confirmation as the substantive Chief Judge of Cross River State.
ASKLEGALPALACE recalls that the Cross River State Government got itself enmeshed in controversy over the appointment of a substantive chief judge of the state.
The most senior judge in the state, Akon Ikpeme, who ought to be appointed the chief judge in accordance with the Nigerian Constitution and legal tradition, was disqualified by the state assembly allegedly because of her family ties with neighbouring Akwa Ibom.
Cross River governor, Ben Ayade, instead nominated the second most senior judge, Maurice Eneji, to replace Ms Ikpeme as acting Chief Judge, an action which lawyers in the country said is unacceptable. Accordingly, the Applicants filed a suit before the Calabar Judicial Division of the Federal High Court and sought an order enforcing the right to freedom from discrimination of the said Justice Ikpeme. The application was dismissed.
Parties to the suit are Kunle Edun, Esq., the current National Welfare Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ike Augustine Esq, an Owerri based legal Practitioner, Emmanuel Ewere, O. Adams Ochuagu and Adedapo Adejumo, Abuja based legal Practitioners as Applicants while the Respondents are Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly, Cross River State House of Assembly and Government of Cross River State.
They appealed but on the 2nd day of December, 2020, the Court of Appeal sitting in Calabar delivered a judgment dismissing the appeal and upheld the non confirmation of Honorable Justice Akon Ikpeme as the Chief Judge of Cross River State on the ground of security reasons attributed to her not being from Cross River State.
The Appellants were represented by Chief Ferdinand Orbhi, SAN; Femi Falana, SAN; J.S. Okutepa, SAN; Anthony Malki, SAN; Afam Osigwe, SAN and Ikhide Ehighelua (Vice Chairman of SPIDEL).
Giving reason why the appeal at the Supreme Court will proceed despite the fact that Justice Ikpeme has now been confirmed as the substantive Chief Judge of Cross River State, Edun said, “the continuation of the appeal are that the originating action sought to enforce the fundamental right of Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme to freedom from discrimination when the Cross River State House of Assembly considered her State of origin as a factor in confirming her. That was an instant violation of her right to freedom from discrimination as guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution, as amended; and also that the action was not filed in her name but as a public interest litigation. Therefore, the action survives her confirmation.”
Kunle Edun aded, “the issue of denial of non indigenes from occupying the office of Chief Judges of States even when they are still serving Judges of the State High Court is a worrying recurring trend and that the Supreme Court should be given the opportunity to intervene. Gombe State is having similar issue and has been without a substantive Chief Judge for almost a year. The present acting Chief Judge is on his 4th term as acting Chief Judge. Justice Illiya who is the most senior Judge in the State is being bypassed inspite of the directive of the NJC that her name must be included in the list for consideration. That certainly cannot be the intendment of the drafters of the 1999 Constitution.”
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