The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has said it will appeal the one-month jail sentence handed a Lagos-based lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, by the Chief Judge of Akwa State, Justice Ekaette Obot, for alleged contempt.
NBA President Olumide Akpata said efforts to free Effiong through diplomatic means had failed, following Justice Obot’s unwillingness or inability to “further entertain the matter”.
According to Akpata, the NBA’s findings suggested that the Chief Judge did not follow due process in the committal proceedings.
He alleged that Effiong was allegedly neither put in the dock nor accorded a fair hearing before the judge convicted and sentenced him.
Akpata also said the NBA could escalate the “unconstitutional” proceedings up to the National Judicial Council (NJC), which has the power to, among others, probe and sanction judicial officers.
Justice Obot, last Wednesday, sentenced the activist-lawyer to one-month imprisonment for alleged contemptuous behaviour.
The judge made the order during proceedings in the case of alleged libel instituted by Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel against a lawyer, Mr. Leo Ekpenyong, who is Effiong’s client.
But Effiong claimed he was an innocent victim of unjustified exercise of power and that the judge punished him after he applied that two armed mobile policemen be asked to exit the courtroom.
The lawyer said he had already asked the Chief Judge to recuse herself from handling the case on the ground of alleged bias.
Akpata, last Thursday, ordered a probe of the circumstances surrounding the sentencing.
The NBA President shared the update on the probe and the association’s decision in statements on his Facebook and Twitter handles.
He said: “Last week, I provided an update on the efforts being made by the NBA towards securing the release of our colleague, Mr. Inibehe Effiong, who was remanded in custody on the order of the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State on account of alleged contemptuous conduct in Her Lordship’s court.
“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.
“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. 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.”