Barristers & Solicitors
Chief Judge jails lawyer for alleged contempt

The Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Ekaette Obot, yesterday sentenced a Lagos-based activist-lawyer Mr. Inibehe Effiong to one-month imprisonment for alleged contempt.

Justice Obot ordered that Effiong use the correctional facility to purge himself of alleged insolence and dishonourable acts that tend to bring the court to disrepute.

The judge made the order during proceedings in the case of alleged libel instituted by Akwa Ibom State Governor Mr. Udom Emmanuel against Mr. Leo Ekpenyong.

Yesterday was the last day for the prosecution to end its case.

The Nation learnt that Effiong, who is the lead defence counsel for Ekpenyong, asked the Chief Judge to recuse herself from handling the case, on the ground of alleged bias.

Speaking on the sentence, Governor Emmanuel’s counsel Samuel Ikpo claimed that Effiong’s conduct was unruly, adding that he was shocked a lawyer could utter such allegedly damning and profane utterances against a judge.

“I believe that when he (Effiiong) comes out of the correctional facility, he will learn how to conduct himself before a court,” Ikpo said.

He claimed that Effiong disobeyed an order given to him by the judge, who asked him to take off his wig and step aside from the bar.

“A lawyer should not allow himself to use one client to destroy his reputation before all the judges.

“I think Justice Obot has really been patient with him all these while. Even as a lawyer, I could not tolerate the young lawyer’s conduct”, Ikpo added.

But Effiong disputed Ikpo’s narrative, saying he was an innocent victim of unjustified exercise of power, adding that he felt unsafe when the judge invited two armed mobile policemen into the courtroom and ordered the media out before commencing proceedings.

He said the judge punished him after he applied that the policemen be asked to exit the courtroom.

In a series of posts on his Twitter handle before he was incarcerated, he referenced a July 2, 2022 Premium Times report wherein the judge allegedly threatened to send him to prison after his client accused her of bias in the case.

In the report, the judge reportedly lashed out at the counsel, after he prayed the court to entertain his application which sought the judge’s withdrawal from the case.

“I will send you out of there now, remove that robe and send you to prison. By the time you go to the Court of Appeal and come back. What is this? You are overstepping your bounds,” Justice Obot reportedly warned Effiong.

Stating his side of the story yesterday, Effiong said: “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.

“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.

“I will be going to the Uyo Correctional Centre now. I have not done anything. I wasn’t even given an 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.”

“This is in the suit filed by Governor Udom Emmanuel against a lawyer, Leo Ekpenyong, for alleged defamation.”

Some minutes after he was taken away, Effiong said the Uyo Correctional Centre turned him back when he was taken there, on grounds of Covid-19 protocols.

“They’re saying that I can’t be jailed in Uyo prison because of COVID protocol, that I have to be in Ikot Ekpene prison. Uyo prison has rejected me. We are going back to the court now for His Lordship to determine where I should be jailed. History will vindicate the just.

“(I am) Inside a van at Uyo prison waiting for the issue of custody to be determined, between Uyo or Ikot Ekpene prison. History will vindicate the just.”

The Nation reports that in high court procedure, a judge is empowered by law to punish anyone for contempt, either in the face of the court (in facie curiae) or not in the face of the court (ex facie curiae).

The judge may impose fines and/or jail time, depending on the circumstances and upon fulfilling of some conditions.

Culled from The Nation