By Chimezie Godfrey
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has called on the Akwa Ibom State Chief Judge, Justice Ekaette Obot to reverse her earlier ruling incarcerating Mr. Inibehe Effiong.
The President, NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, in a statement, said in order to restore confidence in the judicial trial of Mr. Effiong especially given the bad blood that already exists between the trial judge and the accused, it is expedient that Justice Ekaette Obot recuse herself from presiding over the case against Mr. Effiong and transfer the case to another Judge.
Wabba noted that the NLC has followed with keen interest the travails of Citizen Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer and activist in the Akwa Ibom State High Court in a case of defamation brought by the Akwa Ibom State Governor and before Justice Ekaette Obot who happens to be the Chief Justice of Akwa Ibom State.
According to him, at last hearing of the matter, the Chief Justice of Akwa Ibom State sentenced Mr. Inibehe Effiong to one month imprisonment for contempt of court.
He said,”While we recuse ourselves from interrogating the merit or otherwise of the case especially the charges against 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.
“We are also guided by the fundamental principle of justice under our laws that presumes an accused innocent until proven guilty – Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat.
“Unfortunately, the treatment of Mr. Inibehe Effiong since the commencement of this case appear to seriously violate the morality of the natural instinct to protect the weak and vulnerable against the mighty and powerful.
“The ordeal of Mr. Effiong also appear to portray him as guilty even before the court is yet to establish the fact of his guilt. This burden becomes heavier considering that the recent order to remand Mr. Effiong in a correctional facility even before the main substance of the case is heard came from the Chief Justice of the state.
“Clearly, the events surrounding the case against Mr. Effiong make no pretence that he 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 on her handling of the case against Mr. Inibehe Effiong considering that the accused person made very damning allegations against the Akwa Ibom State Governor.
“We do not believe that it serves the cause of justice and public order for Mr. Inibehe Effiong to be perceived to be punished for exercising his democratic rights of holding those in government to account. If his claims are false, let the due process of the law establish same and punish him accordingly. Justice would be defeated if Citizen Inebehe Effiong is punished before he is convicted.
“There are already insinuations in the public space that the one-month jail sentence is part of the plan to dehumanise Mr. Effiong and to demoralize him from enough to recant his allegations against Governor Emmanuel Udom. There is also another school of thought that suggests that the quick incarceration and the humiliation of Mr. Effiong in correctional custody is to ensure that he is quickly taught a bitter lesson regardless of how the case is eventually decided. The truth is that there is no room for vindictiveness in our laws.
“It is on this premise that we call on the Akwa Ibom State Chief Judge, Honourable Justice Ekaette Obot to reverse her earlier ruling incarcerating Mr. Inibehe Effiong. In order to restore confidence in the judicial trial of Mr. Effiong especially given the bad blood that already exists between the trial judge and the accused, it is expedient that Justice Ekaette Obot recuse herself from presiding over the case against Mr. Effiong and transfer the case to another Judge.”
The NLC President added,”We all have a responsibility to protect the integrity of our judiciary as it is the last hope of the common man and woman. This is a burden that the Nigeria Labour Congress will always discharge.”