The Speaker, Cross River House of Assembly, Eteng Jonah-Williams, has explained why the lawmakers backtracked and confirmed Akon Ikpeme as substantive Chief Judge of the state, after rejecting her twice in 2020.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how Mrs Ikpeme, was confirmed on Thursday in unanimous votes by the lawmakers who hitherto were critical of her family ties with neighbouring Akwa Ibom State.
Mrs Ikpeme is of Akwa Ibom parentage. She was born in Calabar, Cross River State, when Akwa Ibom was a part of Cross River. She is married to a man from Cross River, and has been working for decades as a judicial officer, including being a director of public prosecution, and a judge in Cross River.
Cross River State had been without a substantive chief judge since early 2020 after Mrs Ikpeme was rejected.
“Her confirmation is for the stability of the judiciary; we felt Cross River people are suffering a lot because of that and we have done our job, which is to stabilise the judiciary,” the Speaker, Mr Jonah-Williams, told reporters after the day’s sitting, according to a report by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
“As the Chief Judge, she knows her responsibility. We expect a lot because a lot of Cross River residents stood by her during her trying times.
“She should give justice, do the right thing, be fair to all and I wish her good luck,” he said.
Earlier on Thursday, Efa Esua, the member representing Calabar Municipality State Constituency, admitted to PREMIUM TIMES the assembly was wrong to have rejected Mrs Ikpeme.
“It means that the first time we didn’t do it right. So, having seen that there was an error, we needed to correct it,” the lawmaker said, when asked why they made a U-turn.
Confirmation request from Governor Ayade
Before the confirmation proceeding began, the Clerk, Bassey Ekpenyong, read a letter from the Secretary to the Cross River Government, Tina Agbor, informing the lawmakers of Governor Ben Ayade’s request for Mrs Ikpeme to be confirmed as a substantive chief judge of the state.
Mr Ayade’s request and the subsequent confirmation gives credence to the earlier accusation that the governor was the one manipulating the assembly against Mrs Ikpeme.
But the Commissioner for Information in the state, Asu Okang, told PREMIUM TIMES, last year, that “people were unnecessarily attacking the state government and Governor Ayade over Justice Ikpeme’s matter”.
Mr Okang said the state assembly had the constitutional right to reject Justice Ikpeme.
“A potential chief judge of the state shut down all the court, shut down the entire judiciary, mobilised thugs to the assembly, members of the assembly scampered for their safety, just to ensure that she was cleared (by the assembly).
“Are you aware that Justice Akon (Ikpeme) was asked as part of the screening exercise, ‘In case there was an issue between Cross River and Akwa Ibom State Your Lordship, who would you stand for?’ You know her response? She said, ‘I would stand down on the case and reassign it to someone else.’ A chief judge of the state?”
The commissioner said Cross River has “the highest number of political appointees who are not indigenes of the state in Nigeria.
“There are over 200 of them who are non-Cross Riverians, very recently the appointment of special advisers Muslim affairs, first in the entire South-south.
“Cross River has two commissioners in the state executive council who have no ‘fatherly’ lineage to Cross River origin, members of Cross River State Executive Council, the apex body of decision-making and policy-making in Cross River State Government.
“The governor was the same governor who swore in Justice Akon (Ikpeme) as acting chief judge…. In this case, the NJC recommended, the governor forwarded to the assembly, and the assembly declined consent with a simple majority of 15 to eight.
“We are in a democracy. Fifteen members voted no to the confirmation, eight members voted yes to the confirmation. A clear democratic process! Are we saying that the House of Assembly has no such legislative powers?” the commissioner said.
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