Following the order by the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Hon. Ekaette Obot to send renowned human rights lawyer, Iniebehe Effiong to prison for one month, exclusive information detailing a case of alleged professional witch-hunting by the Chief Judge in Akwa Ibom who could no longer hide her odium toward the young lawyer for asking that she recuse herself from a pending case before the court has been obtained by SecretReporters.
How it started
According to sources who attended the court proceedings, Justice Ekaette Obot came into the courtroom visibly angry. She thereafter, asked her Orderly the whereabout of the Policemen before instructing him to bring them into the courtroom. To the surprise of everyone seated in the courtroom, two Policemen armed with Ak47 riffles were ushered into the courtroom. The judge then proceeded to verbally warn everyone that she was in an angry mood, and will not tolerate any nonsense from anyone, else she would not hesitate to send such person to prison. When the case was called, Barrister Inibehe informed the judge that there was a pending motion on the case but was quickly countered by the judge who said she had the right to take any application and the motion should wait until the application has been heard.
As proceedings progressed, the judge noticed a young man sitting in the gallery and quizzed if he was a party to the case. When the man identified that he was just an observer reporting for Premium Times Newspaper, Hon Ekaette flared up and asked that he be kicked out of the courtroom. She further ordered the police to seize his phone.
An attempt by Barrister Inibehe to know why the journalist should be sent out since the matter before the court was a public case and as such fit for public consumption was turned down. According to the judge no journalist had the right to appear in a court and record judicial proceedings without informing the court.
Inibehe further called Justice Ekaette’s attention to the presence of the two armed Policemen inside the courtroom, which is uncommon in the Nigerian Judicial proceedings as he feel threatened and pointed out that the uniformed men were making the courtroom hostile. Barrister Effiong’s plea to have them excused from the courtroom was, however, turned down by Justice Ekaette, who said the two armed policemen with AK47 riffles were in the courtroom to protect her despite the presence of her orderly always seated in court.
She immediately ordered Inibehe Effiong to step out of the bar and derobe himself. This we learned, was so he would no longer be able to address the court. The Chief judge who could no longer stomach her displeasure and anger ordered that Barrister Inibehe be sent to Uyo prison, alleging that he keeps insulting her in her courtroom. “My son cannot insult your mother, so why do you keep insulting me” she allegedly said before telling the young lawyer that if it was to be a physical fight, her son who cannot insult his mother will beat the human right activist to a pulp as he was much bigger than him physically.
The plea by other lawyers in the court, for the Chief Judge to temper mercy on her order fell on deaf ears as she insisted that she was not going back on her words. Justice Ekaette while accusing Barrister Inibehe Effiong of trying to tarnish the name she had toiled to build for years further revealed her odium stating that wanted to become famous using her courtroom because he had earlier made publications about the previous judgement on the case.
The crux of the matter
In suits No. HU/279/2019, between Governor Udom Emmanuel and Leo Ekpenyong, and No. HU/273/2019 between Senator Effiong Bob vs Leo Ekpenyong delivered in 2021 by Justice Ekaette Obot, the defendant, a renowned Akwa Ibom State lawyer, was found guilty of libel and was asked to pay the sums of N1.5 billion and N150 million to the governor and the senator respectively.
However, Barrister Inibehe Effiong, whose expertise was employed by the defendant, filed a motion for the judgement to be set aside, insisting that his client was not given a fair hearing. The prayer was later granted by the court.
The defence counsel also filed another motion praying the chief judge to recuse herself from the case, alleging prejudice and likelihood of bias after she insisted on continuing with the case after facts surfaced of her romance with the litigants.
Romance with the Litigants
The Chief Judge’s romance with the litigants in the case before it had earlier been raised by the defence counsel as concern over a fair trial. Just two months ago, Justice Ekaette Obot publicly attended the wedding ceremony of the daughter of Senator Bob Effiong, one of the litigants in the case, a political bigwig in Akwa Ibom and a close ally to Governor Udom Emmanuel.
Findings also revealed that this is not the first time Justice Ekaette used a prison sentence to threaten and intimidate the defence counsels in the courtroom, as she had previously attempted to send an associate of Barrister Inibehe Effiong to prison in an earlier proceeding on the case.
As at the time of filing this report, Barrister Inibehe Effiong is at the Ikot Ekpene prison under the custody of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS), formerly known as Nigerian Prison Service (NPS).