Cross River State Governor, Prof Ben Ayade has sworn-in Justice Eyo Effiom Ita as the State’s new acting Chief Judge.
The swearing-in, which was done in the early hours of Monday, was almost marred by protest by concerned lawyers in the State.
The event, at the State executive council chamber of the Governor’s Office, Calabar, was witnessed by the deputy governor, Prof Ivara Esu, the Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly, Rt Hon Eteng Jones, senior lawyers and judges, as well as the chairman of the State branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr Paul Ebiala, among others.
The governor said the swearing-in ceremony was in keeping with “the obligations and provisions of the constitution, particularly with reference to section 217 of the Constitution.”
He apologized to the people of the State and lawyers for the delay in the appointment of a new Chief Judge, saying the State was waiting for communication from the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The governor disclosed that the ceremony was taking place because the NJC had Wednesday last week taken a decision “that the next in ranking be appointed as Acting Chief Judge.”
Ayade said his administration was a law-abiding one that “believes in the freedom of the Judiciary and believes that NJC is a watchdog that ensures that the judiciary is absolutely free. As a lawyer, I believe in that supremacy of the freedom of the Judiciary.”
He charged the new acting Chief Judge to ensure justice is done to all at all times, stressing, “I have no doubt that Cross Riverian will have justice and justice delayed is justice denied. Please get down to work with speed to ensure that people get justice. Work hard and stay within the ambit of the provisions of the law and be fair to everybody.
“Let us also work with you, particularly on the directive of the Governors’ Forum and the NEC meeting, where governors have been given the responsibility to take charge of a peaceful end to the ENDSARS protest.
“Set up a commission of enquiry to investigate all the people who have suffered police brutality. I am happy the Commissioner of Police is here in person. You have to work with us to see that those whose loved ones were killed, maimed or injured in the cause of their struggle for survival get justice,” he directed.
In his remarks, the new acting Chief Judge, Hon Justice Eyo Effiom Ita pledged to work in synergy with the other arms of government to ensure the growth of the State.
He also promised to ensure justice, insisting that his decisions will be guided by the law.
On his part, the state NBA chairman, Paul O. Ebiala said: “The swearing in brings some great relief to the people of Cross River State, both lawyers and those who come to court as litigants, because staying for 48days without the head of the judiciary is bad enough, nature itself abhors vacuum.
“But we thank God this (swearing in) has happened today and the governor has taken time to explain the reason we have come to this point. We are happy we now have an acting Chief Judge and cases can be assigned.”
Shortly after the swearing-in ceremony, a group of lawyers in Cross River State under the auspices of the Concerned Lawyers staged a protest over the non appointment of a substantive Chief Judge in the State.
The lawyers, who assembled at the Judiciary Headquarters in Calabar, lamented that the absence has crippled the effective dispensation of justice in the State.
Spokesman of the group, Effiom Ayi said never in the history of the State had it been enmeshed in a totally avoidable bickering and dirty politics.
“We cannot in all sense of responsibility say that after three hundred and eighteen days (318), Cross River State cannot have a chief judge in substantive capacity.
“As at Friday 16th October 2020, over a hundred cases, including fundamental rights action filed by citizens cannot be assigned or heard. Letters of Administration and probate cannot be granted, recommendations for appointment of judges, senior advocates of Nigeria and notaries public cannot be issued.
“The negative effect and impact of all these on the security of the state, the economy, practice of legal practitioners and the growth of the legal profession is evidently loud. Never in the history of the state has the Judiciary been enmeshed in this totally avoidable bickering and dirty politics as to who should occupy the office of Chief Judge”, he said.