Jailing of rights lawyer: Group urges CJ to transfer case to another court

A social rights group in Akwa Ibom State has urged the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Ekaette Obot to recuse from the Udom Emmanuel, Senator Effiong Bob VS Leo Ekpenyong suits and transfer same to another court so as to continuously guard and protect the sanctity of the justice delivery machinery in the state.

Recall that the defence counsel in the suit, Inibehe Effiong has been committed to one month in prison by the Chief Judge, who is also the trial judge in the matter, for contemptuous act before the court after accusing the CJ of bias and likelihood of bias.

Effiong’s imprisonment has raised a lot of controversies as some backed the CJ for allegedly taming the lawyer, whom they claimed was overstepping his bounds. Others blamed the Chief Judge describing her action as a travesty of justice.

The group, Akwa Ibom Integrity Alliance, (AIIA) in a statement by its chairman, Barr Stephen Abia said it would sit on the fence amid the burning issue in the state condemning the excesses of the rights of lawyers even as it urged the CJ to transfer the matter to another court to avoid further desecration of the temple of justice which the CJ has jealously guarded over the years.

The group also called on the President, of Nigeria Bar Association, Olumide Akpata, Esq. to caution Inibehe accordingly over what it described as flagrant disregard to decency in court, especially during the ongoing libel suit instituted against Leo Ekpenyong.

According to the group, “to avoid a continuous desecration of the temple of justice of which the Honourable Chief Judge remains the chief priest, especially, taken for granted that our learned friend, Mr. Inibehe Effiong, may not in truth be purged of such unfortunate contemptuous displays towards the court in cheap attempts to play to the gallery, we most humbly seek the relief of the Honourable State Chief Judge to consider being recused of the matter as he continues to jealously guard and protect the sanctity of the justice delivery machinery in Akwa Ibom State.”

Giving a background on the case, the group said that Leo Ekpenyong in a 2019 publication tagged, “Justice for Sale in Akwa Ibom State National Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal.” accused the Governor of bribing tribunal judges to the tune of $1.5 million dollars to secure judgment in favour of Dr. Chris Ekpenyong against Godswill Akoabio.

The group added that the governor, through the then State Attorney General, Uwemedimo Nwoko, SAN told Leo Ekpenyong to retract the report and apologize but he refused, insisting that he has more evidence to publish which, however led to the governor’s counsel, Samuel Ikpo to file a defamation suit against Ekpenyong at the state high court, Uyo but he never appeared in court.

It added that judgement on the matter was passed on December 15, 2020 that Leo Ekpenyong should pay a fine of N1 billion to the Governor as damages for the libel but he (Leo Ekpenyong), thereafter, contracted another lawyer, Inibehe Effiong who later came to the Court praying the court to reverse the judgment, that he was ready to make an appearance and defend his case.

The matter was set aside by the Chief Judge as requested but the defence counsel set another motion requesting the CJ to recuse from the case, alleging bias by the CJ and pouring vituperation on the judge.

Rising in defence of the Chief Judge, the group maintained that the decision by Justice Obot to commit the lawyer to prison for his contemptuous conduct before the Chief Judge in court, was in order, as that would serve as a deterrent to others who chose to thread that path.

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