THE Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has asked the Chief Judge of Akwa-Ibom State, Justice Ekaette Obot, to immediately release a lawyer, Inibehe Effiong.
The judge jailed Effiong for one month over alleged contempt of court.
In a statement released in Abuja on Thursday, NLC President Ayuba Wabba berated the Chief Judge for incarcerating the lawyer, arguing that the fundamental principle of justice presumed that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty.
“While we recuse ourselves from interrogating the merit or otherwise of the contemptuous acts that led to the sentencing of Mr Inibehe Effiong, we are guided by moral punction which instructs restraint in the exercise of the mighty powers reposed in the state and its institutions of authority.
“Unfortunately, the treatment of Mr Inibehe Effiong since the commencement of the defamatory case against his client appears to violate the morality of the natural instinct to protect the weak and vulnerable against the mighty and powerful.
“The ordeal of Mr Effiong also appears to portray him as an accessory to the crime allegedly committed by his client. This burden becomes heavier given that the order to remand Mr Effiong to a correctional facility even while the case is still under trial came from the state Chief Judge who sits on the case. Clearly, the events surrounding this case make no pretence that Mr Effiong is up and against the mighty and powerful.
“In the pursuit of justice which must not only be served but always seen to have been served fairly, we call on the Akwa Ibom State Chief Judge to be circumspect in her handling of the case which Mr Inibehe Effiong is defending considering that his client, Mr Leo Ekpenyong made damning allegations against the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr Emmanuel Udom,” Wabba said.
Wabba demanded that Justice Obot recuse herself from presiding over the case and assign the case file to another Judge to restore confidence in the case that Effiong is representing.
“We also find it curious that Mr Effiong’s lawful request for the order of the court proceedings that sentenced him to be released was denied more than twenty days after he had filed for the release even when the law provides that such a request should be granted after seven days.
“In order to restore confidence in the case that Mr Effiong is representing, especially given the bad blood that now exists between the trial judge and the defendant’s counsel, it is best that Justice Ekaette Obot recuse herself from presiding over the case and assign the case file to another judge.”
The labour union affirms its responsibility to protect the integrity of the judiciary as it is the last hope of the common man and woman.
The ICIR reported that Justice Obot sent Effiong to jail for one month from the courtroom.
Justice Obot also ordered the arrest of a Premium Times reporter, Saviour Imukudo, who was in the court to cover Effiong’s case.
Effiong, a human rights lawyer, was handling a case for his client before the judge sent him to prison.
Shortly after the court sitting, the lawyer announced his travails.
“I have been sent to Uyo prison by the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Ekaette Obot, for one month for defending Leo Ekpenyong in a libel suit filed by Governor Udom Emmanuel,” Effiong said.
The Premium Times reporter, Imukudo, was also arrested by the police in the same court on the orders of the Akwa Ibom Chief Judge.
Meanwhile, Inibehe Effiong has sued Justice Ekaette Obot, seeking enforcement of his fundamental rights to liberty and a fair hearing.
The legal team led by Femi Falana, SAN, filed the suit numbered FHC/UY/FGR/120/2022 at the Federal High Court, Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital.
Parts of the originating summons read, “Sequel to the continuous refusal by the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State to release copies of the proceedings together with the order convicting the human rights activist, Barr. Effiong made since 27th of July, 2022, in compliance with section 36(7) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended despite a repeated application to that effect, we were forced to file a fundamental rights enforcement suit yesterday at the Federal High Court in Suit No: FHC/UY/FHR/170/2022 against this flagrant impunity in the system in order for my Lord to be compelled to comply with the extant laws of our land.
“It’s beyond imagination to see that the wilful refusal to release copies of the said proceedings has precariously affected and frustrated all material efforts made by Inibehe’s legal team to appeal against his conviction, including his release from the prison custody.