Jailing of Lawyer: Obono-Obla, others blast Akwa Ibom CJ, allege impunity

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    A notary public and public analyst, Barrister Leonard Anyogo, former presidential aide, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla as well as social activist, Agbá Jalingo have condemned yesterday’s sentencing of a lawyer, Inibehe Effiong to one month in jail by the acting Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Ekaete Fabian Obot as sheer impunity.

    Inibehe Effiong who was counsel to Leo Ekpenyong had asked that the presiding judge, Ekaete Obot recuse herself in the matter between his client and Gov Udom Emmanuel since it would appear she had interest but the judge interpreted it to be confrontational and contempt of court.

    Inibehe had also drawn attention to the invasion of court by armed policemen. The CJ is said to have previously threatened Inibehe at different sittings that he would send him to jail for the manner he marshals out his legal arguments before him.

    In separate interviews by Newwire law and events in Calabar, the analysts said the action of the acting CJ amounts to complex and ‘judicial totalitarianism’.

    Obono-Obla himself a lawyer, said “It is the grossest form of impunity and judicial totalitarianism. The weapon of contempt meant to protect the authority and integrity of the court should be used sparingly but as an instrument for oppressing a lawyer.

    A lawyer is enjoined to put forward or present his case fairly, fearlessly and courageously.

    “But when a court purposely set out to instil fear into a lawyer by using contempt as a weapon it leaves much to be desired. It is an infringement on the independence of the Bar.”

    Speaking, Barrister Anyogo said in his opinion Inibehe ought to have been given an opportunity to defend himself.

    The judge was too quick to sentence Inibehe to jail. He was not given a fair hearing. Both the judge and lawyer are first and foremost lawyers and members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). We should give ourselves mutual respect.

    It’s impunity. The so-called contempt charge was inside the court not outside.”

    Agbá Jalingo, a Journalist and social critic, who himself has had issues with judges in court over charges levelled against him by Gov Ben Ayade, faulted Obot and said she is intimidated by the increasing legal popularity of Inibehe.

    He said the “attempt by some pundits to finger the so-called intimidating behaviour of Barrister Inibehe Effiong before His Lordship in the Uyo High Court is the usual smokescreen employed by reactionary elements to conceal under-the-table deals that they cut with politicians, after meeting their match in the courtrooms.

    Inibehe, not convinced that his client will get a fair judgment from Justice Ekaette, asked her to recuse herself and re-assign the matter to another judge.

    “That’s where issues began to escalate. If the judge was not intimidated by the popularity of Inibehe on Channels TV, she won’t tell counsel that her court is not channels TV or AKBC. The bar’s popularity sure intimidated the bench.”

    Jalingo said it is actually some members of the bench who connive with criminals and vindictive politicians to shortchange litigants who come to court that bring shame and disrespect to the legal profession the most.

    “It is a settled matter that court decisions can only be challenged in higher courts but when those decisions have not been reached, lawyers must have the liberty to do whatever they can to protect their clients, particularly, where it is clear and obvious that there is bias.

    Judges are not angels from heaven. They are human beings with all our frailties and we only sin differently, they should also realize that, like them, lawyers are also part of the temple of Justice.

    “If we who stand in the dock cannot speak in the face of intimidation, it will be a double tragedy if our lawyers also will be intimated into silence by mere and baseless accusations of wrongful demeanour before a court.”

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