CJ: Ayade must learn from Wike

Emma Okah

Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State may not be liked by some people but no one would take his position as one of the most patriotic Nigerians. In this sense, l mean that he is devoted to and vigorously supports his country. Unarguably, Rivers State is not the richest state in Nigeria but she has stood tall as a big brother on many national fronts. That may be a story for another day.

Today the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge in Cross River State has thrown up the kind of ideals both Governors Wike and Ayade cherish. In CRS, the issue is whether or not a non indigene who is the most senior high court judge in the state should be allowed to take turn as a substantive Chief Judge of that state.

In Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike appointed a non Rivers indigene Hon Justice Adama lyaye – Lamikanra the substantive Chief Judge of Rivers State after Hon Justice Daisy Okocha retired.

Naturally, there were people who had rooted for an indigenous CJ instead of Hon Justice Iyaye – Lamikanra but Governor Wike stood his ground in the spirit of regional integration, national cohesion and universal brotherhood. Gov Wike’s patriotic action collapsed the growing agitations, doused tension and allowed her be. Today, Rivers people are at peace and the Judiciary is doing well.

The story in Cross Rivers State stinks. Hon Justice Akon Ikpeme hails from Akwa Ibom State but her husband is from Cross Rivers State. She is the most senior high court judge in CRS and by ordinary order of events, should be the Chief Judge of CRS. This is a tradition which the National Judicial Council (NJC) has encouraged to reward hard work, honesty and enhance national cohesion. At best, it eliminates internal frictions and promotes smooth succession in the judiciary at all levels.

However, her case is different. Upon the retirement of Hon Justice Michael Edem as the Chief Judge of Cross Rivers State, Hon Justice Akon Ikpeme took over in acting capacity. Her name was forwarded to the Cross Rivers State House of Assembly for confirmation as substantive CJ but the House rejected her nomination, ostensibly on the ground that she is an indigene of Akwa Ibom State and only married to a man from brother Cross Rivers State. The House preferred instead, an indigene, Hon Justice Maurice Eneji who is next to her.

Gov Ayade is in control of his state, wielding enormous influence. No matter how he struggles to deny interference in this matter, most Nigerians will see through the veneer and put blame on his door steps.

Justice Eneji was appointed acting CJ when her acting tenure expired and again the NJC through the Governor Prof. Ben Ayade forwarded her name to the CR House of Assembly for statutory confirmation. Again, this time, with appalling scorn, the house rejected the nomination without a debate.

This development, described by many as shocking and bizarre, has set the relationship between the two states on a sour tone. Akwa Ibom was part of Cross River State with its capital in Calabar until the Babangida military administration created Akwa Ibom State on 23rd September, 1987 with its capital in Uyo.

For a nation in search of freedom and national cohesion, the “psykrokro” lesson unleashed by the Cross River House of Assembly and by extension the Executive arm of government is highly condemnable in all ramifications.

For a judge who has served Cross River and given her all to be treated in this way smacks of official wickedness in high places. What will Cross River lose if she is allowed to function as CJ for the few years she has to serve before Retirement? It has everything to gain. How would Cross River feel if the parties were to be reversed tomorrow? Where is our claim to brotherhood within the context of our national and regional aspirations if Cross River State would treat Justice Okpeme like an outcast? This is wrong.

Cross River State cannot forget in a hurry that at some point between 2004 – 7, Cross River State lost so much of her oil earnings because of the onshore/offshore dichotomy issue. She was economically paralysed. Former President Obasanjo and Dr Peter Odili, as governor of Rivers State persuaded former Gov Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom State not to take over oil wells adjudged to belong to Akwa Ibom State but which Cross River was wrongly holding and reaping accrued revenue. Gov Attah agreed and this remained so until Gov Godwill Akpabio recovered those oil wells. Now, is Cross River paying Akwa Ibom State evil for good?

Gov Ayade is in control of his state, wielding enormous influence. No matter how he struggles to deny interference in this matter, most Nigerians will see through the veneer and put the blame at his door step.

This is not a lesson that encourages togetherness and it is not late for Govenor Ayade to protect Hon Justice Ikpeme and learn from the wisdom of Gov Wike in this regard. Whatever we do today will speak for or against us tomorrow. He should allow this precedent be.