By Yinka Abimbola
An amalgam of civil society, labour and students’ communities in Akwa Ibom State, Saturday, denounced the imprisonment of civil rights attorney, Inibehe Effiong, by the state Chief Judge, Ekaette Obot.
GuardPost Nigeria had reported how the chief judge on Wednesday, sentenced Mr. Effiong to one month in jail on contempt charges.
The judge also arrested a Premium Times reporter, Savour Imukudo, who was in the court to cover the ongoing libel case brought by Governor Udom Emmanuel against an Uyo-based lawyer, Leo Ekpenyong.
In a statement, the coalition said it was horrified by Justice Obot’s “grotesque exercise of judicial power” and that the move won’t stand in the Appeal Court.
Harry Udoh, Chair, Akwa Ibom CSOs Forum; Iboro Ibara, Curator, Akwa Ibom Roundtable and Peace Edem, Akwa Ibom Youth Advocacy Cluster, issued a joint statement on behalf of the civic space in the state.
“The civic space, having consulted with sound legal minds, wishes to state with due respect to His Lordship, the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State that the procedure adopted in committing the learned counsel to jail for contempt is vexatious and obnoxious to all tenets of justice and liberty,” the coalition stated.
“It is worth emphasising that our primary concern is not on the actions perceived by the honorable chief judge as constituting contempt, although this is questionable, we are, however, worried by the proceedings in the instant case which runs against the grain of the litany of judicial precedents on the matter.”
Citing Nwawka vs Adilkamkwu (2015) ALL FWLR (pt.804) 2064, it argued that to commence a contempt proceeding, the court must follow universally known right to fair hearing.
“Where contempt is committed in the immediate view and presence of the court, such as insulting language or acts of violence or same near the presence of the court as to obstruct or interrupt the due and orderly course of proceedings i.e., in facie curiae, it is dealt with by the court, summarily.
“The offending party will be asked to go into the dock and a charge would be prepared by the court and the offence of the offending party would be specifically and distinctly stated to him and he would be asked to show cause from the dock why he should not be punished for contempt,” the coalition quoted Nwawka vs Adilkamkwu (2015) ALL FWLR (pt.804) 2064.
It insisted that the action of Mrs. Obot shows the worsening national scenario of intolerance of state actors to dissenting opinions of citizens.
Continuing, the coalition argued that the chief curator in the hallowed temple of justice would for any reason fail to keep the arms of justice on equal balance for all citizens, is most unacceptable in a democratic society.
“Our people may become prisoners wherever they may be, by the mere word or touch of an agent of State, if our jurisprudence becomes such where the powers of the court are deployed for personal glory.
“While we wish to draw the attention of the National Judicial Council (NJC), the human rights community and the entire public to this travesty of justice, we are confident that this contempt committal of Barr. Inibehe Effiong by the Honorable Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Ekaete Obot will not stand higher judicial scrutiny and as such will be overturned through the right process which is already in the works,” the coalition noted.