After rejecting her twice on grounds of “not being from Cross River State,” Cross River State House of Assembly has confirmed Justice Akon Ikpeme as the substantive chief judge of the state.
Ikpeme’s state of origin (Akwa Ibom state) had stirred up controversy in the assembly even though she was born in Cross River, schooled in the state, practised law in the state, married a Cross Riverian and also gave birth to children who are all from Cross River State.
Despite the Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC) and Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) backing, the state assembly rejected the appointment of Ikpeme, who is the most senior judge in the state twice on grounds of “state of origin.”
Ikpeme was, however, confirmed on Thursday January 28 following a motion moved by Peter Odey, the lawmaker representing of Ogoja constituency and seconded by Okon Ephraim, the lawmaker representing Calabar South 1.
The new Chief Judge was born in Calabar, Cross River, when Akwa Ibom was a part of Cross River.
She has been working for decades as a judicial officer, including being a director of public prosecution and a judge in Cross River.
Recall that on March 2, 2020, after serving as acting chief judge of the state for three months, the lawmakers had rejected a similar request from the NJC on the grounds that Justice Ikpeme was not an indigene of the state and therefore constituted “security risk.”
Instead, they approved the appointment of Justice Maurice Eneji as the Acting CJ of the state.
However, from indications, through a second letter penultimate week to the lawmakers, the NJC insisted on Justice Ikpeme’s confirmation for her to function as substantive chief judge of the state.
Based on the council’s insistence, on May 29, 2020, Governor Ben Ayade through Secretary to the State Government, Tina Agbor, wrote the lawmakers appealing to them to do the needful.
The letter titled, ‘Re-affirmation of Honourable Justice Akon Ikpeme,’ said, “I am directed by His Excellency, the Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, to convey the attached correspondent from the National Judicial Council on the above for your consideration and other necessary action.
“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 in our judiciary and the concomitant effect in the entire political space as a result thereof. Please, accept the kind regards of His Excellency, the Governor.”
After the letter was presented to the lawmakers, the Leader of the House, Peter Odey representing Ogoja State Constituency, moved a motion seconded by the Deputy Leader, Fred Osim representing Ikom (I) state Constituency, to the effect that the assembly could not reverse itself on the issues bordering on the confirmation of Justice Ikpeme, because there was no fresh information on the issue.
“The correspondence from the governor to the House is not new, and had been treated before,” Odey said.
There was, however, no counter motion, prompting the Speaker of the assembly, Eteng Jonah Williams, to put the motion to voice vote and and those who were in support of the motion were in the majority, the speaker ruled.
Speaking to journalists after the sitting, the Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, Effa Esua, said he was sad over the resolution of the assembly, adding that the lawmakers’ decision has thrown the judiciary into confusion and further crisis.
“It is sad and unfortunate that it is happening in a House that I am part of. It is the resolution of the House but as they say, we the minority have had our say and the majority have their way,” he said.
Justice Ikpeme was born in the old Cross River State.
She had all her education in the state. In fact, her father was a permanent secretary in the old Cross River State.