As the jailing of a Lagos-based human rights activist, Inibehe Effiong, (Esq) by the Akwa Ibom State Chief Judge, Justice Ekaette Obot continues to raise dust, members of the Akwa Ibom Civic Space made up of Civil Society Organisations, Organized Labour, Students’ Communities have faulted the procedure adopted in his sentencing.
The groups stressed that the procedure adopted was vexatious and obnoxious to all tenets of justice and liberty.
DAILY POST reported that the State Chief Judge committed Mr Effiong to one month imprisonment over what she described as confrontational and contemptuous behaviour in court.
Effiong, the defence counsel in a libel suit between the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel Vs Leo Ekpenyong, prior to his committal had reminded the Chief Judge of a pending motion to recuse himself from the case where he (defence counsel) alleged bias and likelihood of bias.
Effiong went further to point to the court the presence of two armed policemen, whose presence he claimed made him uncomfortable in the court, even as he prayed the Chief Judge to order them out.
The Chief Judge was said to have seen the action as confrontational and contemptuous before pronouncing his judgement against the lawyer.
But the Akwa Ibom Civic Space, in a statement signed by the Chairmen of the groups, Harry Udoh, Iboro Ibara, as well as Peace Edem, described the action of the CJ as “abuse of judicial process.”
The groups regretted that Effiong was not given a fair hearing as done in litany of judicial precedents on the matter of contempt, adding that such if not addressed, would set a wrong judicial precedent in the State, as dissenting voices to State actors would not be tolerated.
According to the statement, “members of the Akwa Ibom Civic Space, made up of CSOs, Organized Labour, Students’ Communities, are dismayed at the grotesque exercise of judicial power by the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Honourable Justice Ekaete Obot against Barr. Inibehe Effiong, counsel to Mr. Leo Ekpeyong in the Udom Emmanuel vs Leo Ekpeyong case.
“The Civic Space, having consulted with sound legal minds, wishes to state with due respect to His Lordship, the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State that the procedure adopted in committing the learned counsel to jail for contempt is vexatious and obnoxious to all tenets of justice and liberty.
“It is worth emphasizing that our primary concern is not on the actions perceived by the Honorable Chief Judge as constituting contempt, although this is questionable, we are, however, worried by the proceedings in the instant case which runs against the grain of the litany of judicial precedents on the matter. For instance, the Court in the case of Nwawka vs Adilkamkwu (2015) ALL FWLR (pt.804) 2014, clearly adumbrated ways of commencing contempt proceedings which, to us would be reflective of the universally accepted “right to fair hearing” (audi alteram partem).
“Where contempt is committed in the immediate view and presence of the Court, such as insulting language or acts of violence or same near the presence of the Court as to obstruct or interrupt the due and orderly course of proceedings i.e. in facie curiae, it is dealt with by the Court, summarily.
“The offending party will be asked to go into the dock and a charge would be prepared by the Court and the offence of the offending party would be specifically and distinctly stated to him and he would be asked to show cause from the dock why he should not be punished for contempt.
“This development is indeed a sad feedback on the worsening national scenario of intolerance of State actors to dissenting opinions of citizens. That the Chief Curator in the hallowed temple of justice would for whatsoever reason, fail to keep the arms of justice on equal balance for all citizens, is most unacceptable in a democratic society.
“Our people may become prisoners wherever they may be, by the mere word or touch of an agent of State, if our jurisprudence becomes such where the powers of the court are deployed for personal glory.”
The statement added, “while we wish to draw the attention of the National Judicial Council (NJC), the human rights community and the entire public to this travesty of justice, we are confident that this contempt committal of Barr. Inibehe Effiong by the Honorable Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Ekaete Obot will not stand higher judicial scrutiny and as such will be overturned through the right process which is already in the works.”