Cross River, NJC row over appointment of substantive CJ

Ben Ayade


For six months running, Cross River State has remained without a substantive chief judge, as the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Governor Ben Ayade administration have flexed muscles over the matter.

Twice, the commission recommended to the state government to confirm and swear in Justice Akon Ikpeme as substantive CJ being the most senior judge on the bench, and same number of time, the House of Assembly, allegedly being prompted by the governor, rejected the nominations.

In withholding their confirmation, the lawmakers cited security risk, going ahead to sanction the second most senior jurist, Justice Maurice Eneji, in an acting capacity during plenary on March 2, 2020.

Consequently, the governor swore in Justice Eneji the follow day, saying it was “imperative as law and nature abhor vacuum”, and subsequently the state government forwarded his name to the NJC for a formal clearance and recommendation to be appointed a substantive chief judge.

But the NJC had since written to the state government declining to recommend Eneji on the grounds that he is the number two judge in the state, insisting that their earlier recommendation of IKpeme stands, hence the government should reconsider Ikpeme’s case and appoint her as the substantive chief judge, as the basis for her rejection by the legislative chamber was not tenable.

As the three-month acting capacity of Eneji ends today, the House of Assembly again yesterday refused to confirm Ikpeme.The communication for confirmation from the governor was conveyed to Speaker Eteng Williams by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Tina Agbor and it was dated May 29, 2020 and titled: “RE: Confirmation of Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme.”

The correspondence read: “You are to treat the above with the urgency it deserves in view of the emergency situation we find ourselves in our world and to ensure that there is no vacuum created in our Judiciary and the concomitant effects in the entire political space as a result thereof. Please accept the kind regards of His Excellency, the Governor.”

However, the hallowed chamber did not read the letter from the NJC, but in a voice vote, rejected the governor’s letter and that of the NJC, saying it would not reverse its earlier decision on Ikpeme.

Addressing newsmen shortly after the session, chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Public Petitions, Public Service Matters and Conflict Resolution, Efa Nyong Esua, feared that the rejection of Ikpeme for the second time was not in the best interest of the state.

In this article:
Akon IkpemeBen AyadeNJC
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