Justice Ikpeme finally confirmed as Cross Rivers chief judge
By Joseph Kingston, Calabar
Justice Akon Ikpeme has been confirmed as the substantive chief judge of Cross River state. After 13 months without a substantive chief judge, the legislative arm made a turnaround when they convened an emergency sitting on Thursday and confirmed her, following a letter with reference no SSG/S/300/VOL.XVIX/550 and dated January 20, 2021 and transmitted to them from Governor Ben Ayade.
In the letter signed by the Secretary to State Government (SSG), Tina Banku Agbor, for the governor sought the confirmation of Justice Akon Ikpeme as substantive chief judge in line with the powers conferred on him by Section 271(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
The House, presided over by Speaker Eteng William, in a unanimous yes-vote, confirmed Ikpeme after the motion moved by the leader, Peter Odey (Ogoja) and seconded by Whip, Okon Ephraim (Calabar South 1).
The Ikpeme saga began with Governor Ben Ayade’s inauguration of the disputed Cross River State Judicial Service Commission in October 2019. The Commission had, on November 27, gone ahead to forward the names of Justice Ikpeme as the “President of the Customary Court of Appeal” and Justice Maurice Eneji (her immediate junior) as “Acting Chief Judge,” a move the National Judicial Council (NJC) rebuffed.
Justice Ikpeme was sworn in on December 3 2019, as acting chief judge for three months and although Governor Ayade sent her name to the CRSHA for confirmation as prescribed by law, he was believed to have engineered the refusal by the lawmakers.
The CRSHA’s refusal in Ikpeme’s confirmation was hinged on the fact that she is from Akwa Ibom state by birth, and would “pose a security risk to Cross River state” should there be a conflict between both states. This led to a shutdown of all courts in the state.
Following the rejection of Justice Ikpeme, Justice Eneji was sworn in as the acting chief judge, which was later extended for an added three months.
With the NJC adamant on Justice Ikpeme as substantive chief judge, the situation forced Governor Ayade to swear in Justice Eyo Effiom Ita – still as acting CJ – on October 19, 2020 with the NJC rejecting an extension.