The Civil Society Consortium on Civic Space has condemned the imprisonment of a human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, by the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Ekaette Obo.
Mr Effiong, a Lagos-based lawyer, was jailed last Wednesday by Ms Obot for alleged contempt of court.
The Chief Judge had ordered a Premium Times’ reporter, Saviour Imukudo, out of her courtroom before ordering Mr Effiong’s imprisonment.
The lawyer, who was defending his client, Leonard Ekpenyong, in a defamation suit filed by the Akwa Ibom governor, Udom Emmanuel, has been having a running battle with Ms Obot whom Mr Effiong repeatedly asked to recuse herself from the suit.
But the squabbles between the lawyer and the judge came to a head last Wednesday when Ms Obot sent Mr Effiong to the Uyo prison for one month in a controversial manner.
In a statement on Sunday, the Civil Society Consortium on Civic Space, said “it is disturbing that the Chief Judge of the state will descend to the arena of conflict and take sides with the governor in a matter that she ought to be an impartial judge.”
It further said Ms Obot’s action “portends denial of Mr Ekpenyong’s constitutional right to legal counsel and fair hearing.”
The group accused the Akwa Ibom judiciary of colluding with other branches of government in “repressing the civic space.”
‘Judiciary should enjoy separation powers’
Underscoring the necessity of the judiciary’s independence, the group noted that “It is worrisome that the Chief Justice (Chief Judge) of Akwa Ibom state … has allowed the governor to turn the courts, which ought to be the last hope of the common man to a branch of his office.”
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While condemning the “high-handedness of the Chief Judge,” the coalition demanded Mr Effiong’s immediate release from prison.
Referencing the Nigerian constitution and Article 4 of the ECOWAS Treaty to “recognise, promote and protect human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” the group demanded “an immediate reversal of the 1-month sentence given to Mr Effiong by the Chief Justice.”
Following Mr Effiong’s jailing, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), dispatched a delegation to Uyo with a view to securing the lawyer’s release.
NBA president, Olumide Akpata, in a Facebook post, expressed “great concern” at Mr Effiong’s imprisonment.
He said he had been in touch with the Chairman of the NBA Uyo Branch whom he disclosed had mobilised his team to look into the issue.
“This morning, I have also mandated the NBA 1st Vice President (John Aikpokpo-Martins) to visit Uyo immediately to join the ongoing efforts and ensure the release of Mr Effiong,” Mr Olumide said in the statement he posted last Thursday.
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