C/River : Wrangling in Judiciary over appointment of High Court Administrative Judge

A high level of bickering has allegedly rocked the Calabar Division of the High Court over the appointment of Administrative Judge.

The substantive Administrative Judge, Hon Justice Emilia Okon Ibok has retired and the next Judge was to be appointed immediately but a high level of bickering has allegedly stalled the new appointment.

Upon the retirement of Justice Emilia Ibok and formal pull out from the Bench, alleged controversy ensued as to who takes over from her in the Calabar Judicial Division of the High Court of Cross River State.

It was gathered that Hon Justice Akon B. Ikpeme who should have taken over from her was alleged to have involved in bribery scandal as alleged by Senator Smart Adeyemi in an election matter.

Hon Justice Akon Ikpeme, it was learnt was a Judge of the High Court of Cross River State and was appointed to head a Panel A of the National/State Houses of Assembly Election Tribunal of Kogi State that sat in Lokoja.

Dissatisfied with the result as declared by INEC, Hon Smart Adeyemi filed a petition no EPT/KG/NASS/SEN.04/2015 at the election tribunal. The contest was between him (Smart) and Sen Dino Melaye.

The tribunal delivered judgment in favour of Sen Melaye and the Court of Appeal affirmed the Judgment of the tribunal. Sen Adeyemi however, alleged that Hon Justice Ikpeme collected bribe from Sen Melaye and delivered judgment in favour of Sen Melaye.

But a senior member of the Bar, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Mba Ekpezu Ukweni told our reporter in an interview that “Sometime in 2017, a video was circulated about Hon Justice Ikpeme by Sahara Reporters and petitions were subsequently written and submitted to the National Judicial Council (NJC).

“The Panel duly and meticulously investigated the complaints and found them to be false and unfounded. The Panel submitted its report to NJC and the Council found that the petitions lacked merit and that the petitioners could not produce evidence to substantiate them, thereby leaving the allegations against the subject Judge unproved.”

He said with the retirement of Hon Justice Emilia Okon Ibok, Hon Justice Akon Ikpeme is the next in command and she has to take over the office of the Administrative Judge, the second after His Lordship, Justice, Hon Michael Edem.

“Yes, our Chief Judge, His Lordship, Justice Hon Michael Edem gave indication at the pull out ceremony of Hon Justice Emilia Ibok, specifically at the Special Court Session that he would be due for retirement in November 2019.

“By our Constitution, tradition in the legal profession and rules of practice, it is the most senior Judge that will take over from the Chief Judge upon his retirement, first in an acting capacity, pending when the Governor will make a formal appointment.

“It is provided for in Section 271(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). That is not an issue for debate. The profession does not tolerate a deviation from the practice,” he stated.

Consequently, on the issue of marriage, Mba Ukweni said, “Hon Justice Akon was born here, married a Cross Riverian and bore her children here. Her father was the permanent secretary in Cross River and retired here.

“When Hon Justice Akon Ikpeme finished her School, she was employed by the Cross River State Ministry of Justice where she rose to a position of a Director of Public Prosecution and from there she was appointed a Judge of Cross River State Judiciary.

"Our rules allow women to choose where to work, she can choose to work in Akwa Ibom State, or choose to work at where her husband come from, Cross River or work at where her mother was from. These are the things put in place so the Justices may not be over discriminated,” the SAN stated.
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