The Cross River State House of Assembly on Thursday backtracked and confirmed Justice Akon Ikpeme as the substantive chief judge of the state.
Hope Obeten, the spokesperson to the Speaker of the Assembly, Eteng Jones, broke the news about Justice Ikpeme’s confirmation in a Facebook post, Thursday morning.
Efa Esua, the member representing Calabar Municipality State Constituency, confirmed the development.
“It was a unanimous decision, we didn’t give room for voting,” Mr Esua said, Thursday afternoon.
When asked why the House made a u-turn on the matter, the lawmaker simply said, “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”.
Cross River State had been without a substantive chief judge since early 2020 after Mrs Ikpeme, the most senior judge in the state who ought to have been appointed into the position, in accordance with the Nigerian Constitution and legal tradition, was disqualified by the assembly allegedly because of her family ties with neighbouring Akwa Ibom State.
Mrs Ikpeme is of Akwa Ibom parentage. She was born in Calabar, Cross River, 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.
Akwa Ibom was created out of Cross River on September 23, 1987, by the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida.
A previous confirmation hearing by the House was reportedly manipulated by the state governor, Ben Ayade, against Justice Ikpeme.
But the Commissioner for Information in the state, Asu Okang, told newsmen, 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.