Barrister Debo Adeleke
Still On C. J Ekaette’s Conviction Of Barr. Inibehe Effiong’s Without Trial –By Barrister Debo Adeleke
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to state my opinion on the issue that is currently trending on the social media about the most unfortunate and ugly incident that happened between The Honorable Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Honourable Justice Ekaette Obot and Barrister Inibehe Effiong, an activist Lawyer.
First and foremost, I am not ceased with the full facts of the matter, however I will express my opinion on what I have heard on the social media.
As a Lawyer, before you can make adequate and correct legal opinion on a matter, you need to know the full details on the matter otherwise one might be unnecessarily judgemental. Be that as it may, if what we read is correct that The Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State sentenced Barrister Inihebe Effiong to one month sentence without putting him on trial to give him the right of fair hearing, then the action of the Chief Judge is most unfortunate to say the least.
No person can be sentenced by a Court of Law without such person being granted the opportunity to explain himself or herself, this position of Law is called fair hearing as contains in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, section 36, it stipulates that no person is to be sentenced without giving the option of fair hearing. It is the principle of law universally and more importantly supported by 1999 Constitution of the FRN as amended.
The Constitution is a grundnorm and guiding principle used to guide and regulate the actions of citizens and Courts of Law. It is too elementary law even by a part one law student that the principle of fair hearing is a condition precedent before a citizen can be committed to prison. The action of the CJ of Akwa Ibom is a glaring case of abuse of power and judicial rascality which denigrates the sanctity of the Constitution of the FRN. It is equally a slap on the face of Judiciary.
Assuming without considering that Barrister Effiong had committed any infarction that bothers on Contempt of Court, the CJ being the presiding judge should have stepped down and assign the matter to another Judge. She cannot be a Judge and play the same role of the defence and prosecution in a matter she’s involved.
Besides, Barrister Effiong is perfectly in order to call the attention of the Court to the presence of the two fully harmed policemen in the courtroom. The mere presence of policemen with harms in court is an aberation and should not be condoned granting the fact that our policemen are trigger happy. Allowing them to be present in court with loaded guns could lead to accidental discharge whereby there might be loss of life.
Secondly, the best that the Judge could do in this circumstance is to overrule the observation of the Lawyer rather than unjustifiably sentenced the Lawyer to one month prison for making a lawful and correct observation. I am of a strong opinion that the action of the CJ of Akwa Ibom is excessive, wrong, ultravires, indefensible, punitive and irresponsible.
She must have been nursing an animosity against the Lawyer being an activist which she exhibited in a hurry. It was a case of settling personal score which can never be accommodated by iota of logic and judicial rules and regulations. It is simply an insult to our jurisprudence.
Another thing that is noteworthy which is equally unfortunate is that the case under consideration was between the State governor and an individual whereby Barrister Effiong was standing as the defence Counsel. Going by the pronouncement and or body language of the CJ, there was a motion filed by the same Counsel for the CJ to disqualify herself from the case, that could have been responsible for her unreasonable vituperation and unjustified decision. It is simply laughable and a serious damage to our jurisprudence.
I support hundred percent that the National Judicial Council (NJC) and Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) should look into the matter dispassionately and immediately place the CJ on suspension pending their thorough investigation of the matter. Such a behaviour of the CJ shows that she’s power drunk and she’s so temperamental to take such an irrational and unjustified decision on the matter. What she has done is a situation of ‘HE WHO PAYS THE PIPER DICTATES THE TUNE. Her action is to please the State Government and stand justice on its head to say the least. It is highly unfortunate and ridicules Nigerian Judiciary in the society.
Granting the fact that a judge has power to punish contempt committed in the face of the court. However, a trial has to be conducted. The contemnor has to be given fair hearing, in the nature of being called upon to show cause why he should not be committed to prison for a specified action amounting to contempt of court.
From the stories told by proponents and opponents of the controversy, that trial was not conducted. Mr. Effiong was not put in the dock to show cause. That is wrong. Even if there was a contemptuous conduct, the right procedure ought to have been followed. Should there be an appeal, what would the appellate court review?
It appears that the learned Chief Judge wanted to settle scores and came prepared for that very outcome, going by the unusual presence of armed police men inside the court room.
The saddest part of the encounter is that a judge whose impartiality is under challenge, ought not to have taken any other step in the proceedings, till that application challenging her continuance as the trial judge is determined. It appears that the Chief Judge came to punish counsel for filing that application asking that the learned Chief Judge recuse herself. That is abuse of judicial power, which ought to be punished by National Judicial Council.
The action of the Chief Judge is wrong on many counts. It is a sad testament of the state of the judiciary. It should cost her the seat. The Chief Judge has shown herself as incapable of carrying out the duties of her office dispassionately, without favour or ill will. She abused her oath of office and should be shown the way out.
The next question is ‘Is there any contempt of court by conduct and or statement or observation made by Barrister Effiong? In answering this dispassionately, we need to know what is contempt of court or what constitute the contempt of court.
Contempt of court in a lame man and a straight forward language is an act that attempt to ridicule and or diminish the integrity of the court by a reasonable average human being. It could equally be seen as an act that could tarnish the reputation of the court. Any behavior that attempt to erode the power of the court and or ridicule the power of the court could be seen to be contemptuous.
The next thing is contempt proceeding. Where a court feels that someone has committed an infarction that bothers on contempt of court, the contemnor must be put on trial. In other words there must be a contempt proceeding whereby the contemnor shall be called upon to defend himself under the principle of fair hearing.
In this particular case under review, there was no such thing by the court. If the contemnor is convicted as it is in this case, he has a right of appeal, then how will the court of appeal adjudicate on the matter where there was no contempt proceeding because in this case the Judge acted as the prosecutor. It’s a simple case of judicial rascality. Such abuse of the court process should not be found with the CJ of a State.
The NJC must rescue the Judiciary otherwise the snowball effect of the CJ power drunk can completely destroy the image of the judiciary. The NBA on its own too owes Barrister Effiong a duty of care just as every Lawyer that is under the umbrella of NBA. They have to demonstrate that in judiciary, there must be checks and balances. There are pletoral of cases regarding the contempt of court and the principle of fair hearing. Some of the cases include:1) The case of Akpan Vs Akpan 1996)7 NWLR (Pt.462)
2) The case of F.C.D.A. Vs Koripamo Agary (2010)14 NWLR (Pt.1213)377 at 391-392
3) Kwara State Vs Afolabi (1991)6 NWLR (Pt. 196) 212 at 227.
4) The case of Nwawka Vs Adilkamkwu (2015) ALL FWLR (pt.804)
Also, the principle of Natural Justice of fair hearing is solely meant to avoid bias in a case particularly on the part of the Judge so that every reasonable person who attends the court proceedings would be satisfied that the court is being fair to all parties involved before the pronouncement of the judgement. Thanks,
Barrister (Comrade) Debo Adeleke Could Be Reached Via +234 803 646 7095