THE controversy trailing the refusal of the Cross River State House of Assembly to confirm National Judicial Commission’s nomination of Justice Akon Ikpeme as the substantive Chief Judge of the state has continued to rage. This is as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammed, has granted the state government’s request to extend the tenure of Justice Maurice Eneji as Acting Chief Judge of the state. It will be recalled that when Justice Ikpeme first appeared before the state House of Assembly on March 2, 2020, her nomination was rejected as the state lawmakers said though she is married to an indigene of the state, she is from neighbouring Akwa Ibom State by birth and thus constitutes a security risk.
The House again at its sitting of June 2, 2020, rejected Justice Ikpeme’s nomination after the NJC, for the second time, re-nominated her. The argument of members of the state House of Assembly this time was that they had taken a decision and would not reverse themselves. Note that after Justice Ikpeme was first rejected, Governor Ben Ayade on March 3, 2020, swore-in Justice Eneji as the Acting Chief Judge of the state, after the House of Assembly, screened and approved his appointment in that capacity. Also, after the House for the second time refused to confirm Justice Ikpeme on June 2, 2020, it was gathered that the state government wrote the CJN, requesting an extension of Justice Eneji acting period.
The Cross State government, in a statement, said the NJC, has approved the extension of the appointment of Justice Eneji as the Acting Chief Judge of the state by another three months. The approval, according to the state government, was contained in a letter to Governor Ayade, dated May 29, 2020, by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammed. The extension was made known in a statement by the Special Adviser to Gov Ayade on Media and Publicity, Mr Christian Ita. It stated that the extension of Justice Eneji’s appointment shall take effect from June 3, 2020, and end on September 2, 2020, in accordance with the provisions of Section 217(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.
Consequently, Ayade approved the extension of the appointment of Justice Eneji as the state Acting Chief Judge by three months. Meanwhile, faulting the refusal of the state House of Assembly and the role played by the state governor in the non-confirmation of Justice Ikpeme’s nomination, lawyers have continued to describe the development as unconstitutional. Some lawyers who went to court on the matter, had also appealed a Federal High Court judgment which dismissed their suit.