A group, Lawyers Arise for Justice, has asked the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to declare a nationwide protest against the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Ekaette Obot, for jailing human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong.
Mr Effiong who was defending his client, Leo Ekpenyong, in a defamation suit involving Akwa Ibom State governor, Emmanuel Udom, was sent to the Ikot-Ekpene prison after he was convicted by Ms Obot in a controversial contempt hearing that has drawn outrage across the human rights community in Nigeria.
Reacting to allegations of manhandling of Mr Effiong by prison officials at the Uyo correctional centre where the lawyer was transferred to on Wednesday, the group condemned the “brutal treatment and unconstitutional humiliation meted out to Inibehe Effiong in Uyo correctional centre.”
In a petition dated 12 August and addressed to the NBA president, Olumide Akpata, convener of ‘Lawyers Arise for Justice,’ Tope Temokun, urged the umbrella body of lawyers in Nigeria “to declare a nationwide action.”
The petition said the nationwide protest would be against the gross violation of Mr Effiong’s rights to personal dignity and to pressurise Ms Obot to reverse her controversial decision which imprisoned the lawyer.
Citing a plethora of instances where a judge can reverse his or her decision if it is fraught with fundamental defects, the group urged the Chief Judge to reverse her ruling that jailed Mr Effiong.
“This is the only path of honour the Chief Judge could take to redeem the bar and the bench and our justice system of the backlashes that may follow this path of perdition if allowed to complete its cycle.”
While it commended NBA’s intervention in trying to secure Mr Effiong’s release, the group said if the association “neglects to toe this path within the shortest time available, then a dangerous precedent for the courageous practice of law in Nigeria, that would haunt the law profession for generations to come, would have been firmly established.”
The petition was co-authored by Samuel Ihensekhien, Marshal Abubakar, Pelumi Olajengbesi, Festus Ogun and Rasheedat Akinrinde.
Other members of the group include: E. D Akpala, B.C. Obilor, B.O Williams and Kariakitei Kokowei.
It will be recalled that Mr Effiong’s ordeal began on Wednesday, 27 July, when he urged Ms Obot to recuse herself from the suit due to likelihood of bias, which she declined.
The Lagos-based human rights lawyer also queried why the Chief Judge sent a PREMIUM TIMES reporter, Saviour Imukudo out of the courtroom but allowed armed police operatives to attend the sitting.
Mr Effiong’s client, Mr Ekpenyong, is the defendant in the defamation suit filed by the Akwa Ibom governor, Mr Emmanuel.
NBA officials say Ms Obot has frustrated every effort to get records of the day’s proceedings in the suit transferred to the Court of Appeal for hearing.