Inibehe Effiong, the popular Nigerian human rights lawyer, has been jailed.
The lawyer was sentenced to one month imprisonment by the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Ekaette Obot, for asking her to recuse herself from a libel suit filed against a fellow lawyer, Leo Ekpenyong, by the state governor, Udom Emmanuel.
SaharaReporters learnt that Obot who allowed armed policemen wielding AK-47 rifles into the courtroom on Wednesday, on June 30, threatened to jail Effiong for accusing her of being bias and asking her to recuse herself from the case.
Udom Emmanuel had sued Ekpenyong for defamation of character over a publication in which he accused the governor of “buying judgment” from the 2019 National Assembly Election Tribunal.
In a motion on notice filed by Ekpenyong’s lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, he had asked Justice Obot to reassign the case to a neutral judge.
But the events took another turn on Wednesday morning, when the Chief Judge surprisingly ordered that Effiong be thrown behind bars.
In a live Facebook video, the human rights lawyer said, “We were in court this morning and the atmosphere was very hostile. Immediately my Lord, the chief judge came in, she ordered some armed policemen with AK-47 to come into the court room.
“And then the policemen came in; I kept quiet. The proceedings started and then I reminded the court that we had a motion for recusal, asking the Chief Judge to recuse herself from the matter on the grounds of likelihood of bias.
“And then the court said we should go ahead with the trial and while we were at the court, journalists were asked to leave the place and I simply said, ‘My lord, it’s an open court and we are expecting that anyone who wants to observe proceedings should observe it.
“I also said, My lord, I don’t feel comfortable, having armed policemen inside the court; that I have never seen armed policemen inside the court; that it made me feel uncomfortable, threatened and they could be outside.’
“And My lord ordered me to stay out of the bar, ordered me to de-robe and said she is committing me to prison for one month for raising an observation that armed policemen should not be in the courtroom. I am waiting for the conviction warrant. I am going to Uyo prison from here. I think it is also an opportunity to see people that are there. So, we will see how this goes. I just want everyone to see what has been happening.”
SaharaReporters on June 30 reported that in a motion on notice filed by Ekpenyong’s lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, he asked Justice Obot to reassign the case to a neutral judge.
He accused the Chief Justice of impunity, bias and violation of the code of conduct.
“AN ORDER of the Honourable Court for this Court (CORAM:HON. JUSTICE EKAETTE FF OBOT) to disqualify and release herself from further hearing and or presiding over the proceedings of this case, that is suit no: HU/279/2019 between DEACON EMMANUEL GABRIEL UDOM VS LEO EKPENYONG, ESQ on grounds of fair hearing, particularly for bias,” the court document read.
“AN ORDER of this Honorable Court reassigning this case, that is suit no: HU/279/2019 between DEACON EMMANUEL GABRIEL UDOM VS LEO EKPENYONG, ESQ to another Judge of the Akwa Ibom State High Court to be heard de novo.”
Justice Obot in 2021 lashed out at the defence lawyer, Effiong who said the court had breached the Nigerian Constitution in its December 15, 2020 judgment against his client, Leo Ekpenyong.
The court on December 15, 2020, ordered the defendant to pay N1.5 billion to the governor as general damages for libel.
Effiong however challenged the judgement and one other involving a former senator, Effiong Bob and successfully persuaded the court to set them aside.
“You don’t stand before me and talk nonsense,” Justice Obot in December 2021 told the human rights lawyer.
“I’ve been on this side of the law for over 30 years and you don’t come and teach me the law from there.”
Effiong who urged the court to give priority to his application for extension of time had cited the Supreme Court’s position on the matter, “Notwithstanding that preliminary objection is on jurisdiction, provided there is an application before the court for extension of time that application must be taken first.”
Refusing Effiong’s application, the judge had said, “Preliminary objections are taken first in every proceeding, especially when it touches on jurisdiction. If you have replied to that objection, why are you afraid?
“Is anything the matter with you? This is the court of law and things are done according to rules here. Sentiments do not overrule that.
“You are not on Channels Television, neither are you on Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Television.”