The Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Ekaete Obot, has expressed her anger against Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Inibehe Effiong, asking him to behave himself or risk being sent to prison.
The CJ’s anger followed the lawyer’s insistence that his client, Leo Epenyong, do not have “confidence in my Lord to determine the matter before her,” alleging prejudice and likelihood of bias in the handling of the matter.
Our correspondent reports that in suits No HU/279/2019 between Governor Udom Emmanuel VS. Leo Ekpenyong Esq and No: HU/273/2019 between Senator Effiong Bob VS Leo Ekpenyong respectively delivered on 2021 by Justice Obot, the defendant was found guilty of libel and was asked to pay the sums of N1.5 billion and of N150 million to Emmanuel and Bob respectively.
However, the counsel to the defendant, Barrister Effiong, filed a motion for the judgement to be set aside, insisting that his client was not given a fair hearing and the prayer was later granted by the court.
The defence counsel also filed another motion praying the Chief Judge to recuse from the case, alleging prejudice and likelihood of bias.
Effiong said, “We are saying because your Lordship has already found the defendant liable in this matter, it is only just and fair that the matter be reassigned to another Judge to be heard de novo, that is the practice my Lord.
“For example, if the court of appeal sets aside a judgement and sends back the case to be tried before the lower court it usually goes with a consequential order that a new judge should handle that matter, so if the defendant has said that he doesn’t have confidence in the honourable Chief Judge of the State to hear his case, it’s only fair that, the matter be reassigned to preserve the dignity, impartiality and honour of the court.
“All we are saying is that we do not have confidence in my Lord to determine my matter.”
Infuriated by the submissions of the defense counsel and his refusal to sit down when counsel to claimant, Barr. Samuel Ikpo, asked him to do so during the proceeding which was held at High Court 1, Barracks road, Justice Obot retorted, “You cannot say that before me. You can’t talk to your senior like that. I don’t know when this man learnt law.
“You are trying to intimidate your senior. Did you see the type of counter you filed over miscellaneous matters I overlooked?
“I still set aside that judgement only for you to capitalise on it and you want to play on the intelligence of the court? Do not allow me to send you to prison!”
She added, “Saying that when a matter is set aside that it must be reassigned to another Judge is not the practice. It is a lie from the pit of hell.”
The Judge, however, proceeded with the hearing of the witness of the claimant and later adjourned the case to 27 – 29 July for conclusion of claimant and hearing of defendant’s case as well as motions filed, even when the defence counsel said the dates were not convenient for him, insisting that the case was that of defamation and no urgency in it for accelerated hearing.
Speaking with journalists shortly after the proceedings, counsel to the defendant, Barrister Effiong said, “I have been described in venomous terms. We know that by law, a court should not address a counsel in that manner. The seeming hostility that characterised the proceedings to set aside the default judgement is discouraging.
“Why we are also asking that my Lord should reassign this matter is because my Lord has already delivered a judgement though in default against Mr Ekpenyong where he asked him to pay gov Udom Emmanuel a sum of N1.5 billion and I came before this court asking that that judgement should be set aside having been delivered in error and in flagrant violation of right of my client to fair hearing because the date that judgement was given, no hearing notice was issued and the registrar gave that date off record.
“The court agreed with us that the right of our client was violated and set the case aside.”
Counsel to the claimant, Barr. Samuel Ikpo, however, declined comment on the issue.