The Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Ekaette Obot on Wednesday committed a human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, (Esq) to the state correctional centre for one month over what she described as “confrontational and contemptuous behaviour” in court.
Justice Obot before ordering the conviction warrant of the accused said she had run out of patience with the excesses and unruly behaviours of the embattled lawyer who is the defence counsel to Barr Leo Ekpenyong.
Ekpenyong is standing trial in a libel suit instituted by the governor of the state, Udom Emmanuel and Effiong Dickson Bob in suits Nos HU/279/2019 and HU/273/2019 respectively.
The defence had earlier asked the Chief Judge to recuse from presiding over the matter alleging bias and likelihood of bias.
The matter which came up Wednesday, July 27, 2022, for cross-examination of the last witness, Rev Richard Peters ended abruptly by the order of the Chief Judge who was visibly infuriated by the perceived confrontational behaviour of the rights lawyer, Effiong.
Effiong while cross-examining the witness, (Rev Peters) observed the presence of two armed policemen inside the courtroom and prayed the Chief Judge to excuse them adding that their presence had already made the atmosphere tensed and uncomfortable for him to proceed.
He said, “my Lord, as a legal practitioner, with total respect I have never seen armed policemen inside the court with Ak47. With total respect my Lord I don’t feel comfortable as a lawyer in this atmosphere having armed policemen sitting behind me.
“I am formally raising observation that the atmosphere of the court is hostile for the proceedings. I’m also raising observations that my Lord should ask them to leave the court, they have no business being here, but if my Lordship rules that it is in line with the tradition of this court, let them stay but I pray the court should excuse them. Even in ceremonial court, armed policemen do not enter inside the court.”
Irked by the observations, the Chief Judge, Justice Obot ordered him to step out of the bar which he obliged, and further ordered him to remove his wig and gown but the lawyer sought the reason for such order even as he insisted that he would not address the judge while being de-robed.
The CJ quipped, “You are sentenced for being confrontational and contemptuous, now remove your wig. You are no longer in a position to address me. You are hereby sentenced to one-month imprisonment to purge yourself of contempt. Take him away.”
Speaking with Newsmen shortly after the judgement on what transpired in the court, the claimant counsel, Samuel Ikpo said, “we have fielded our last witness for the final cross-examination and the defence counsel in his characteristic manner was very hostile with the Chief Judge, abused the Chief Judge, poured vituperation, he has been doing that before, even me as a lawyer cannot tolerate that but the Chief Judge in his magnanimity has been tolerating him until today.
“In law even when the judgement is against you you cannot stand before the Chief Judge and say, you see that matter I am going to appeal. Every time he goes out of court, he will gather the media to talk nonsense. Let him stay in the correctional centre and purge himself of contempt.”
The matter was earlier meant to be heard on 27 and 29 July.
Meanwhile, shortly after the judgement, Effiong tweeted: “I have just been sent to Uyo prison by the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Ekaette Obot, for one month for defending Leo Ekpenyong in the libel suit filed by Governor Udom Emmanuel.”
He explained what happened.
“The Chief Judge of Akwa Akwa Ibom ordered a Premium Times reporter to leave the court. I said my lord, we were thinking that since the proceeding is public, that members of the public should be allowed to observe the proceeding. My Lord asked me to proceed with cross examination.
“I obeyed. I informed the court that I was not feeling comfortable and safe having two armed mobile policemen seated inside the courtroom, that it was strange and that I felt unsafe. I applied for the judge to excuse the armed policemen from the courtroom.
“The Hon. Chief Judge then ordered me to step out of the Bar, that she was sending me to prison. She then ordered the policemen to take me to Uyo prison. And that I should be in jail for one month. I am waiting inside the courtroom for them to bring the conviction warrant.”
Effiong also said: “I will be going to the Uyo Correctional Centre now. I have not done anything. I wasn’t even given opportunity to say anything before the ‘conviction.’ Two lawyers in court appealed to the Hon. Chief Judge but my Lord insisted that I must be jailed.”