Thursday, 5 March 2020

Women tackle Cross River Assembly for declining Chief Judge confirmation

Our Correspondent|5 March 2020 

Women groups in Cross River Southern Senatorial District have expressed their grievances over the non confirmation of Justice Akon Ikpeme as the state Chief Judge by the Cross River House of Assembly.

The groups, numbering over thirteen, said they were appalled by the position of the state legislature in the confirmation of Justice Ikpeme, whom they described as well deserving to head the judiciary after putting several years of meritorious service to the state.

It would be recalled that the Eteng Jonah Williams-led parliament had on Monday, through voice vote, disqualified Justice Akon Ikpeme from being confirmed as substantive Chief Judge of Cross River State, ostensibly due to the fact that the nominee is not from Cross River.

But the women, who addressed a press conference in Calabar on Wednesday, argued that in as much as the nominee is lawfully married to a Cross Riverian, she automatically becomes an indigen of the state, and as such qualified to enjoy every rights and privileges accorded to every other persons within the state.

The women, according to a statement signed by Princess Florence Ita-Giwa, leader of Mbono Iban Isong Efik Association, averred that the action of the state assembly was a violation of Justice Ikpeme's fundamental rights, as she was being discriminated against due to her gender.

They jointly appealed to the first lady, Dr Linda Ayade to step into the matter to ensure that women in the state are not relegated to the backdrop, noting that the treatment meted out on Justice Akon Ikpeme, who had been the acting Chief Judge, based on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, amounts to shortchanging the entire women in Cross River.

The women also urged the Assembly to rethink its action and do the needful by confirming Ikpeme, saying there was still room since Justice Maurice Eneji was sworn in as an Acting Chief Judge.

The statement reads in part: 'We the women of Mbono Iban Isong Efik Association collectively and 
individually are appalled at the 
resolution of the Cross River State House of Assembly on 2nd March 
2020, which resulted in the rejection 
of Justice Akon Ikpeme as the substantive Chief Justice of Cross River State (CRS) on erroneous grounds that she is from Akwa Ibom State and therefore constitutes a security risk to Cross River State.  

'As women from different parts of Nigeria but bound together by our love for Calabar and many years of co-existence, the Mbono Iban, for all intents and purposes see and know that Akon Ikpeme is a woman of Odukpani LGA origin in Cross River State. We reject all spurious attempt to dissociate her from her husband of over 30 years and her 4 children who are fully part and parcel of the Efik ethnicity. In her own right, Akon Ikpeme is fully Efik as she was born in Calabar and had her early livelihood experiences here in the state. 

'During the last 35 years or more, she has habitually resided and worked in the public service, and payed her tax here in Cross River State, where she has not been found wanting. She later rose to become a judge and served in that capacity flawlessly. This fact was confirmed both by the Governor (Prof Ben Ayade) during her swearing in as the Acting Chief Judge, and was contained in the report of the Judicial Committee of the House of Assembly and  further attested to by many members of the House of Assembly who spoke of her impeccable record and character on the floor of House (during the debates on the  2nd March 2020.) 

'We are therefore unable to understand what the logic behind her disqualification or rejection is about. Although she was denied confirmation by a voice vote, the reasons had nothing to do with her competence and service to Cross River State. No specific instances of her being a security risk was established and therefore, the resort to her state of origin was vile and hateful. The protracted nature of this debacle suggests a premeditated arrangement which to our surprise has been followed through. From the very beginning in 2019, when the question of succession was announced, her issue has been at odds with certain interests in the State. 

'However, we expected that since H.E the Governor had graciously sworn her as Acting Chief Judge on the recommendation of the National Judicial Commission, over and above her colleague (Justice Maurice Eneji) the matter had been settled both in law and process. We therefore find it strange that she is being denied mainly on the ground that she is woman and one who is married to a person from Cross River State. 

'Our challenge is that women continue to be displaced just because they are women. In their father land, they have no place because they are married out and in their husband's land, they are strangers or refugees. Mbono Iban Isong Efik totally refuses to believe that women are now seen as Internally Displaced Persons or Refugees and calls for a total overhaul of this situation. It particularly wishes to draw attention to the fact that what happened yesterday at the House of Assembly in Cross River State was an infringement of the fundamental rights of Justice Akon Ikpeme and a matter of grave constitutional implication. All women are affected, because discrimination to one woman is discrimination to all women.

'We note that the Governor has sworn in a man in place of Justice Akon Ikpeme and would like to add that since this is in an acting capacity, there is room for the Cross River State House of Assembly to reverse itself on this matter. The right thing should be done in the light of the provisions of Sec 42(1) a&b of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which states that 'a citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:- (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or (b) be accorded either 
expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.'

The press conference was jointly organized by the Mbono Iban Isong Efik Association, Gender and Development Action (GADA), Eniong Women Association, Women 4 Women Community, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-CRS), Efik Leadership Foundation and Women in CAN-CRS. Others are Henshaw Town Women Association, Nigeria Youth Aids Program, Nka Iban Uko, The Women Voice and Leadership Project Nigeria, Center for Training and Development Activities, Neighborhood Care-Well Foundation and CCAPI.

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