Nigeria: Inibehe Effiong – NBA Speaks On Possible Action Against Judge, Plan for Jailed Lawyer’s Release

Going by the NBA president’s update on the case, on Thursday, Mr Effiong may end up spending the entire one-month period to which the judge sentenced him in prison.

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has threatened to petition the National Judicial Council (NJC) to sanction the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom, Ekaette Obot, over her sentencing of a human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, to one month’s imprisonment for alleged contempt.

NBA president, Olumide Akpata, giving an update on the association’s intervention to secure Mr Effiong’s release, on wednesday, picked holes in the procedure adopted by Ms Obot in jailing the lawyer.

“Regardless of the conduct of Mr. Effiong in the courtroom on the date of the proceedings that led to his committal, one thing that has come out from the various accounts that the NBA has so far received is that Hon. Justice Ekaette Obot did not follow due process in the committal proceedings,” Mr Akpata tweeted via his Twitter handle on Wednesday.

The NBA president, who said investigations were being conducted into the matter, cited denial of fair hearing among the breaches allegedly committed by the judge in sending Mr Effiong to prison.

“Mr. Effiong was not put in the dock, told what his wrong or contempt was, given fair hearing or even an opportunity to recant or purge himself (a courtesy that the Bench should, at the minimum, extend to counsel where counsel’s conduct is said to be contemptuous).

“This, on its face, not only runs afoul of known practice and procedure in such cases, but is also unconstitutional.

“In view of the foregoing and depending on the outcome of our ongoing investigations, the NBA may be forced to take this matter up with the National Judicial Council,” Mr Akpata said.

Ms Obot, last Wednesday, 27 July, sent Mr Effiong to prison while the lawyer was appearing before her to defend a client in a defamation case.

His client, Leonard Ekpenyong, is the defendant in the defamation suit filed by the Akwa Ibom governor, Udom Emmanuel.

The judge ordered Mr Effiong’s imprisonment after the lawyer queried her decision to send a PREMIUM TIMES reporter, Saviour Imukudo, out of the courtroom and expressed concerns over the intimidating presence of armed police officers in the courtroom.

Efforts by the NBA to get Mr Effiong released from prison has yet to yield fruits.

‘Judge refuses to hear bail application’

Mr Effiong may end up spending the entire one-month period to which the judge sentenced him in prison, with Mr Akpata indicating Thursday that all attempts to secure Mr Effiong’s release had been unsuccessful.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how Mr Akpata had, the day after Mr Effiong was jailed, assured that the association’s intervention would ensure the release of the lawyer “shortly”.

But the NBA president said Wednesday that the hope for Mr Effiong’s release lies in an appeal against his conviction as the judge indicated that she was unwilling and incapable to entertain the lawyer’s bail application.

He said he has asked NBA team to work with Mr Effiong to file his appeal against the judge’s decision.

“Unfortunately, attempts to secure Mr. Effiong’s release through sustained engagements at different levels have been unsuccessful with the Chief Judge indicating that she was unwilling or unable to further entertain the matter.

“In the circumstance, the NBA is left with no choice but to work on an appeal against the decision of Her Lordship, and I have instructed the NBA team to work with Mr. Effiong on an immediate appeal.

“This is not the outcome that we had expected because there is a high chance that Mr. Effiong would serve out his one-month custodial term before the end of the appeal.”

Why Effiong may spend full month in prison – NBA official

Earlier on Wednesday, an NBA official has indicated that Mr Effiong might spend the entire one-month period in prison.

Monday Ubani, who is the Chairman of NBA’s Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL), said on Wednesday that “from the feelers” he was getting, Ms Obot would not grant bail to Mr Effiong.

Mr Ubani, a former 2nd vice-president of NBA, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday, that the application for bail pending appeal filed before Ms Obot might be an exercise in futility.

The senior lawyer, who condemned Ms Obot’s decision, noted that she had become “functus officio” over the case, implying that the judge is legally handicapped to take any step in the after giving her verdict.

He also said the Court of Appeal that has the power to set Mr Effiong free is on vacation.

Mr Ubani, who condemned the conviction of the lawyer, added that the application for Mr Effiong’s bail filed before Ms Obot is not likely to yield any positive result.

“Only the Court of Appeal can reverse her conviction,” he said, but expressed regrets that the court “is on vacation for one month or thereabout.”

‘How Chief Judge erred’

Analysing events that culminated in Mr Effiong’s journey to Uyo prison last Wednesday, Mr Ubani faulted Ms Obot’s decision.

“The position of the law as enunciated in several cases decided by the courts of appellate jurisdictions is that mere irritation or annoyance to a judge do not amount to contempt,” Mr Ubani argued in his statement.

He said a judge should be “tolerant and not descend into the arena.

“They must be respected and honoured but not worshipped for they are not GOD. They remain human beings with flesh and blood!”

Mr Ubani noted that “Her Lordship failed in following procedure in trying and convicting Mr Inibehe Effiong.”

He said “the proper procedure was for her (Chief Judge) to have framed the charge therein and ask him to respond to the allegation of contempt.

“After giving him fair hearing, conviction could take place after he refuses or fails to purge himself of the contempt.

“From accounts of all parties to the case including the government lawyers, such procedure never took place,” Mr Ubani said, adding that “she proceeded to issue remand warrant without following the time honoured procedure of fair hearing.”

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