There is uncertainty in the Cross River State Judiciary as the tenure of the Acting Chief Judge, Justice Eyo Effiom Ita expires today.
Justice Akon B. Ikpeme was Acting Chief Judge of the State for three months, followed by Justice Maurice O. Eneji for six months. Justice Eyo Ita also acted for three months.
A source told our Reporter that the National Judiciary Council (NJC) has declined extending the tenure of Justice Effiom Ita for another three months.
The NJC recommended Justice Akon Ikpeme but the State House of Assembly refused following alleged security threat.
Ntufam Mba Ukweni, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, spoke to our reporter on the development.
“When the Governor appointed Justice Eneji, as acting state Chief Judge, it was because he refused to accept the recommendation of the NJC. The NJC and the Chief Justice of Nigeria were deceived to extend the tenure of Justice Eneji for another three months.
“From all indications, the NJC has refused to recommend another Justice to be appointed to the substantive capacity because from the feelers we are getting it is because they have already made a recommendation for that office.
“It will be inconsistent and in fact, it would look funny for them to make a second recommendation since the Governor has refused to appoint the person they recommended. He can go ahead and appoint all the Judges in the state in an acting capacity” he said.
Ukweni added that Governor Ben Ayade can appoint acting chief judges but only at the instance of the NJC.
“The Governor cannot, on his own, extend the tenure of the Acting appointment beyond the period stated in section 274 (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
“The Governor can appoint the most senior person as acting chief judge. The law says if the office of the Chief Judge in a state is vacant and for any reason, the Governor can appoint the most senior Judge of the High Court to perform that function”
Ntufam Ukweni regretted that the judiciary in Cross Rivers has returned to a state of confusion.
“The Governor may go to the next Judge, Hon. Justice S. M. Anjor, if he still insists on not swearing in Hon. Justice Akon B. Ikpeme.”
The SAN wondered how long the state will continue to roam “in this unholy circle of shame”.
“Let the Governor assist himself, the judiciary, the legal profession, and Cross River by doing the needful. He should retransmit his request for the House of Assembly to clear Hon. Justice Akon Ikpeme to be sworn in as the substantive Chief Judge of Cross Rivers State” he urged.