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March 4, 202018min1260
…Say ‘We were approached to pay N10m each to member’ – source
It has emerged that there was more to the confirmation of Justice Maurice Eneji as the Chief Judge of Cross River State than meets the eye.
According to sources close to one of contenders for the post, each member allegedly collected N9 million while Eteng Jonas-Williams, the Speaker and Joseph Bassey, the Deputy Speaker each got N12 million and N10 million respectively.
Justice Eneji was confirmed few days go by the Cross River State House of Assembly and sworn in by Governor Ben Ayade in what has not only generated heated debate and criticism but soiled the image of the governor, often described as arrogant, the House of Assembly and Justice Eneji.
Justice Akon Ikpeme’s tenure as the Acting Chief Judge expired on the 2nd of March, 2020. She was on acting capacity.
Both were qualified according to the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, NJC, who interviewed them but based on seniority, Justice Ikpeme was preferred and recommended for appointment.
But Ayade would have none of that sources close to Ikpeme revealed to Daily Mail.
She was accused of being an indegene of Akwa Ibom State but married to a Cross River indegene but by marriage, the State Governor and the HoA deemed her unfit and “security risk” to be confirmed as the substantive CJ of the state.
But latest revelation is that the “take home” which was enough to ensure Justice Ikpeme was not confirmed was allegedly arranged by the state governor, a claim Daily Mail could not confirm.
One of the sources confided that, “We were approached to pay each member N10 million on the excuse that since the Lord Justice was not from Cross River, it was necessary to ensure a smooth confirmation.
“The Lord Justice was told of the development because she was not approached directly, maybe out of fear but one of the aides was told. She initially felt it was a joke, that someone somewhere close was trying to extort money from her.
“But it started getting clearer as her tenure in acting capacity was expiring when her name was not sent to the HoA for confirmation. Everyone was in the dark. Then news came that another person’s name has been sent and before you know it, he was before the HoA and was confirmed and the governor wasted no time to swear him in”
According the source, the money came from the Executive who saw Ikpeme as unyielding and uncompromising.
“A lot of shenanigans is going on in Cross River State. The Judiciary needs to use its position to reduce the over bearing influence of the Executive. So who could easily bend to their whims and caprice was chosen.
“The argument that the Lord Justice Ikpeme was ‘s security risk’ was fallacy to embellish bribe that has taken place. They approached us and we could not pay them, we refused to bribe them because what was noble and right to do was already recommended by the NJC but they would have none of it,” the source said.
Another source, who corroborated the revelation said, the money was paid cash and three members were over heard discussing how much they got.
“When we heard bribe has taken place, we tried to verify the information. Unfortunately for them, three members were over heard discussing the deal.
“There was a member who refused to collect the money saying the right thing should be done but his voice was drown out by the other two.
“I don’t know if he has collected his but the confirmation was done after they have collected bribe which was facilitated by the Executive.
“For me, the blame goes to the governor. He wants to have someone who he can control just as he has the HoA as rubber stamps. These are the worse set of state legislators you could have anywhere in Nigeria,” the source said.
“They don’t know their rights. They can’t say anything. They can’t make laws. Even if Ayade brings before them law to sell them state they will willingly oblige.”
Daily Mail tried to reach out to the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and the office of the governor but the telephone lines to the HoA did not connect while the office of the governor did not pick their calls.
Meanwhile, in a lengthy protest press statement, the Nigerian Bar Association called for immediate reversal of the exercise.
The statement was signed by Paul Usoro, NBA president.
The full statement read:

“It has just been announced that HE (Prof) Ben Ayade, the Governor of Cross River State (“CRS” or “the State”) has, this morning sworn in Honorable Justice Maurice Eneji as the Acting Chief Judge of Cross River State to take over from Honorable Justice Akon Ikpeme whose tenure as the Acting Chief Judge expired yesterday, 02 March 2020. This absurdity and naked injustice and prejudice must not be allowed to stand. The Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) is unequivocally opposed to the appointment of Eneji J as the Acting Chief Judge of the State and even more opposed to the unsavory political intrigues within the Executive and Legislative arms of the Cross River State that has so far resulted in the unconstitutional failure of both arms to confirm and swear in Ikpeme J as the substantive Chief Judge of the State.

“Honorable Justice Akon Ikpeme is the most senior Judge of the CRS Judiciary and next to His Lordship is Honorable Justice Maurice Eneji. The names of Their Lordships were both recommended to the National Judicial Council (“NJC”) for appointment as the Chief Judge of the State, with Ikpeme J as the preferred candidate and Eneji J as the reserve candidate based, amongst others, on seniority. The NJC, in December 2019, interviewed both candidates, found them respectively suitable for the position but recommended Ikpeme J for appointment as the Chief Judge, being the most senior Judge and not having any negative report howsoever. It was after the NJC’s recommendation that the political undercurrents and intrigues became full-blown and culminated in today’s purported swearing-in of Eneji J as the State’s Acting Chief Judge.

“To be sure, those intrigues had simmered even before the NJC recommendation and it all centred around Ikpeme J’s State of birth, Akwa Ibom State (“AKS”) as distinct from her State of Origin, which is Cross River State, based on her marriage to a Cross Riverian. Following those simmering and clandestine political machinations, Ikpeme J was not confirmed nor appointed as the Chief Judge of the State several months after the NJC recommendation. Yesterday, 02 March 2020, word came out from the plenary session of the CRS House of Assembly (“HoA”) that Ikpeme J was a security risk by virtue of her State of birth and therefore not fit to be appointed as the Chief Judge of the State. According to the CRS HoA, Ikpeme J is a security risk because she is, by birth, from the neighboring Akwa Ibom State even though her husband and children are, by birth from Cross River State. Ikpeme J was born, bred, schooled and has worked, all her life in Cross River State and rightly claims Cross River State as her State of Origin. Governor Ayade, this morning, gave fillip to the absurdity and farce of the CRS HoA by substituting Eneji J as the Acting Chief Judge of the State.

“The NBA is, in the first place, dismayed that Eneji J has agreed and accepted to be such a pawn in the unconstitutional intrigues of the CRS Executive and Legislative arms. His Lordship, Eneji J, must be familiar with all the facts that we have set out above and must know, as a judicial officer, that the reasons given by the CRS HoA for the non-confirmation of Ikpeme J as the substantive Chief Judge of the State are not only untenable but wholly unconstitutional and unjust. In the first place, Ikpeme J has, to the knowledge of the State apparatchik, consistently entered her State of Origin as Cross River State and not Akwa Ibom State, in all relevant records, by virtue of her marriage to a bona fide Cross Riverian, and it is factually incorrect and inane for her to be denied the office of the Chief Judge of the State based on a preposterous claim that she is purportedly a non-indigene of Cross River State. But even assuming that she is, or the records were to show her to be of Akwa Ibom State origin (which is not the position), did the CRS Governor and his Assemblymen not swear to uphold the Nigerian Constitution, the provisions of which inter alia forbid discrimination on grounds of ethnic background? Are they, the Governor and the House of Assemblymen, upholding the sacred provisions of that Constitution by so brazenly discriminating against Ikpeme J in the appointment of the CRS Chief Judge?

“Even more bewildering and fatuous is the suggestion that Ikpeme J, as the CRS Chief Judge, would constitute a security risk to the State. To the best of our knowledge, Ikpeme J had security clearance from the Department of State Security (“DSS”) – the body saddled with handling security issues and appropriately screening candidates for judicial appointments – before her name was sent to the NJC by the CRS Government as the preferred candidate for the position of CRS Chief Judge in December 2019. Now that the CRS HoA is revising the DSS security clearance that was given to Ikpeme J prior to the NJC recommendation, neither the CRS Governor nor the HoA has supported their security risk assertion with any revised report from the DSS. In any case, what security challenges could there possibly be between two neighboring States whose indigenes historically come from the same pod? We know of no such fantasized security challenges and even if there were, that would not justify denying a fit and proper Ikpeme J the position of the State’s Chief Judge and committing an unconstitutional act.

“To be clear, Ikpeme J, upon her appointment as a judicial officer, swore to an oath to dispense justice to all manner of persons without fear or favor and without affection or ill-will. Nothing has been proffered by the CRS Governor and HoA to suggest that Ikpeme J has reneged howsoever from the obligations of that oath to warrant any concerns about the discharge of her functions as the State Chief Judge if she is so appointed. The CRS Judiciary is in any case not in a position to determine disputes, if any, between CRS and AKS the exclusive jurisdiction thereon belonging as it does, constitutionally, to the Supreme Court. Even where disputes between federating States deflect from that apex Court, they end up inexorably before the Federal High Court and not the State High Courts. The question does not therefore even arise as to where Ikpeme J’s allegiance would be in the event of any conceivable dispute before His Lordship’s court between CRS and AKS. The administrative functions of the State Chief Judge do not also involve issues of security between Nigeria’s federating States, howsoever. In effect, whether from a judicial or administrative prism, Ikpeme J as the CRS Chief Judge would have nothing to do with purported security challenges, if any between CRS and AKS.

“From whichever angle one looks at the on-going macabre dance in Cross River State, it is distasteful and must be denounced by all lovers of Nigeria’s Judiciary and its independence. The cherished tradition of appointing the most senior Judges, where they have no reported blemish howsoever, to fill vacancies as Heads of Courts in the States and Federal Judiciaries promotes harmony within the judiciary and extirpates political corruption. That tradition must be protected in our overall interest and for the preservation of the Rule of Law and the precepts of justice. With these principles in mind, it is not too late for Eneji J to relinquish the acting appointment that, presumably, has been foisted on him by the CRS politicians and we respectfully urge His Lordship to so act. By so doing, His Lordship would earn himself a position of honor and distinction in the annals of Nigerian justice administration.
“The NBA also calls on both the Executive and Legislative arms of the CRS Government to urgently retrace their steps and confirm Ikpeme J for appointment as the substantive Chief Judge of Cross River State. The NJC indeed owes the Nigerian Judiciary and the justice sector the duty of insisting on that position, to wit, the confirmation and appointment of Ikpeme J as the Chief Judge of Cross River State. If we, of the justice sector, do not and cannot stand up for Ikpeme J today, we would effectively have abdicated our responsibilities and should expect similar and worse degradations and desecration of the judiciary and judicial appointments by the Executive and Legislative arms of Governments in the various States of the Federation and, indeed, even at the Federal level. The NJC should also appropriately sanction Judicial officers who connive at these unworthy and unconstitutional acts by the Executive and Legislative arms of Government. Precedents of the NJC’s actions abound in this regard. The Judiciary in CRS and beyond should stand as one in facing down this fundamental breach of our independence and the cherished tradition of appointing the most senior and unblemished judicial officers to fill the vacant positions of the Heads of Courts of the States and/or Federal Judiciaries.”

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