Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has criticised Justice Ekaette Obot, the Chief judge of Akwa Ibom State for continuing to imprison Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer and activist who has been detained since July 27 over alleged contempt of court.
The Congress’s leadership on Thursday also called for the release of the lawyer, saying the labour movement is driven by the fundamental principle of fairness in law that presumes “an accused person is innocent until proven guilty – Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, not qui negat.”
In a statement released on Thursday, the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said, “While we recuse ourselves from interrogating the merit or otherwise of the contemptuous acts that led to the sentencing of 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.”
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Wabba said the treatment meted out to the lawyer “appears to violate the morality of the natural instinct to protect the weak and vulnerable against the mighty and powerful”.
He further said, “The ordeal of Mr Effiong also appears to portray him as an accessory to the crime allegedly committed by his client. This burden becomes heavier given that the order to remand Mr Effiong to a correctional facility even while the case is still under trial came from the state Chief Judge who sits on the case. Clearly, the events surrounding this case make no pretence that Mr Effiong 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 in her handling of the case which Mr Inibehe Effiong is defending considering that his client, Mr Leo Ekpenyong made damning allegations against the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr Emmanuel Udom.”
Wabba urged Justice Obot to withdraw from the case and assign the case file to another Judge in order to reestablish trust in the case that Effiong is representing.
He added, “We also find it curious that Mr Effiong’s lawful request for the order of the court proceedings that sentenced him to be released was denied more than twenty days after he had filed for the release even when the law provides that such a request should be granted after seven days.
“Furthermore, the fact that a journalist who was also covering the proceedings of the court the day Mr Effiong was sentenced was also harassed by Justice Obot who had his recording device confiscated and the contents deleted and the subsequent ill-treatment of Mr Effiong while in custody lends weight to the suspicion of an organized ambush designed to intimidate and cower.
“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 case that Mr Effiong is representing, especially given the bad blood that now exists between the trial judge and the defendant’s counsel, it is best that Justice Ekaette Obot recuse herself from presiding over the case and assign the case file to another judge.
“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.”