Thursday, 17 October 2019

Time to Rescue the Cross River Judiciary —by Bruno Bassey

17 October 2019 

Ongoing developments in the Cross River State have left many deeply concerned about the continuance of democratic order and good governance in the State that had become a model in its governance framework. 

While the Executive and Legislature had obviously bowed to the ineptitude strait cast on those Arms by an absentee Governor from the first term of his offshore governance of the State, which witnessed the ascendancy of a so-called 'Co-Governor', being the illegal office created by the elected Governor, Mr. Ben Ayade, for his younger sibling, Francis Ayade, the Judicial Arm appeared removed from the claws of these marauding conquerors of Cross River State.

Sadly, since assuming his second term rule, Ayade seems now fully geared to subjugate the constitutional independence of the Judiciary to bring the latter under his absolute monarchy of the 2 Ayade siblings, Ben and Frank. 

The first indicators that the party was over for the Judiciary emerged when the Governor since April, took on a cat and mouse game with the State Chief Judge, Michael Edem, over the swearing into office of 2 new judges approved for the State Judiciary by the Nigerian Judicial Council NJC. 

Ayade after 2 obviously deliberate botched inauguration of the judges, in August, while hosting the Executive of the State Bar Association, in a freudian slip of tongue, revealed that he was unwilling to have the new Judges assume their seats because the NJC turned down the Governor's preferred candidates for the judgeship. 

Till date, Mr. Ayade has remained in the ignoble register of Governors who defy the constitutional recommendations of the NJC, seeking to rather have their personal preferences foisted on an arm whose independence is the hallmark of any modern society.  

The Governor has also not been sparing of the independent Press. Agba Jalingo, an online media activist, and Joseph Odok, a social critic, have been behind bars for months on spurious charges of treason. The only "crime" of the duo have been their relentless campaign to bring Gov. Ayade to the path of public accountability.  

In what is looking like a well scripted agenda to subdue the Press and every independent body, Gov. Ayade is hell bent on defying the tradition of seniority in the appointment of the State Chief Justice. As Edem retires in a few days, Ayade is set to appoint a junior judge to supersede the most senior judge, Afiong Ikpeme, as the new CJ. Already senior citizens and usually conservative personalities as Ntufam MBA Ukweni, a senior advocate of Nigeria, has called out the Governor, labelling him as corrupt. 

The public outburst of Mr. Ukweni, as sometime lead counsel to Gov. Ayade, reveals the growing frustrations and anger of the elites with Mr. Ayade's maladministration and lack of consultation and deference to wise counsel in his conduct of State affairs.

It has become most urgent at this time for all stakeholders in the Cross River State Project to redeem the State from the precipice. Gov. Ayade must be made to understand that governance is impersonal. 

That the State is one big Family where all from the Governor to the youngest, the richest and the poorest, are all equal partners and stakeholders. It is not an Ayade Fiefdom where all opportunities and benefits, including career appointments must be only for the Ayade brothers and their minions.

Bruno Bassey is a social commentator 

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