Below was copied from lawyers WhatsApp platforms in Uyo and Calabar, is an eyewitness account by Ndon Assian, a journalist with over 21 years experience covering crime and courts in Nigeria.
In my 21 years of covering crime and the courts, I have never witnessed a lawyer talk to a Judge, let alone the Ctate Chief Judge and display the kind of insulting behavior put up by the lawyer (Barr. Inibehe Effiong) in the court today. While I sympathize with counsel (Inibehe Effiong), I think he will learn his lesson after one month concurrently (15 days) in the correctional center.
This is a 2019 case HU/279/2019 between the Governor of Akwa Ibom State – Udom Gabriel Emmanuel & Barr Leo Ekpenyong. Senator Effiong Bob also took out a case against Barr Leo Ekpenyong on the same wild and unsubstantiated allegations that the Governor paid the chairman of the 2019 Senate election petition panel, Justice Akanbi a whopping $1.5 million to subvert and pervert judgement against Sen Godswill Akpabio.
Barr Leo Ekpenyong had published it on his Facebook page and an online newspaper. He accused Sen Effiong Bob of allowing his house here in Uyo to be used as a garage where Justice Akanbi parks his car perpetually. When the matter was filed it became an uphill task to locate the defendant for service, until he was served through substituted means.
The defendant never for one day showed up in court since 2019, perhaps for fear of being arrested by the police since the matter had a criminal side to the civil action. A lawyer represented the defendant during the hearing but later did not appear again. At the pre-trial conference which was adjourned severally to enable him attend, and to which he didn’t, Barr Inimfon Edie of Zion Chambers headed by Barr Sam Ikpo ask the court to enter judgement against the defendant since they and the court cannot wait endlessly. The court did!
The defendant was asked to pay the sum of 1.5 billion Naira to the governor and the sum of 150 million naira to Sen. Effiong Bob. There was no reaction from the defendant, rather he tried to reach the governor and the senator through third parties for mercy.
More than three years after the case, Barr. Inibehe Effiong filed that the Chief Judge should set aside her judgement. Despite the fact that Sam Ikpo opposed the motion citing several legal authorities, the CJ set aside her judgement allowing Inibehe to defend on February 16, 2022.
(Then) the defense counsel noe filed a motion asking the CJ to disqualify herself in the matter. From the Affidavit attached to the motion on notice by the defendant Barr. Leo Ekpenyong, it can be observed that the efforts to have the case reassigned has degenerated to smear campaign.
Let mention some here: I was in court on the date the defendant claimed on paragraph 15(c) of his Affidavit that he was informed by Augustine Asukwo Esq. that “in the most hostile manner, His Lordship shouted at him repeatedly, and told him to shut up every time he sought to address the court. That His Lordship shouted at him and ordered him to step out from the Bar and derobe while threatening to send him to prison.”
There is no iota of truth in the above claims. The CJ never said that to Barr Augustine Asukwo. Did he step out? Did he derobe? If he refused to, what was the reaction of the CJ? The very first time the CJ has asked counsel to step out of the Bar and derobe is today
It was directed at Barr Inibehe. And the consequence of the order is obvious.
At no time did the CJ barred journalist(s) from covering the case since its inception in 2019 as alleged in paragraph 20 of the affidavit. It has severally been reported in both state based and national papers. What the CJ warned against was recording the proceedings inside while in session, as was done by Cosmas – the Premium Times correspondent before his phone was confiscated. It is not done unless there is a mischievous intent.
The allegation that the CJ ordered the registrar “to switch off his personal mobile phone and was only released to him after the case was adjourned” is a distortion of the truth. Apart from lawyers, every mobile phone were ordered switched off and handed over to the court duty policewoman. Mine and that of the journalists from The Punch, Daily Post and Premium Times were all handed to the policewoman and released to us after the court session.
As usual, counsel will attend court with retinue of journalist whom he thereafter address harping on the bias of the Court. The CJ had read the reports and cautioned counsel to no avail.
On 29June, 2022, it was such a terrible scene to watch how counsel raised his voice and gesticulated with his hand against the CJ. I have never witnessed such proceedings. He stopped his cross-examination, and demanded a date after the legal year break. Prosecuting counsel opposed, insisting that it is a delay tactics. The court settled for the month-long adjournment to today.
Today 27 July and tomorrow 28 July was for conclusion of cross examination of Cw3 – Rev Richard Peters, and the close of prosecution’s case. The court sat at exactly 09. 23 am. The matter was the first on the list. Case called, witness in the box affirmed. Counsel (Inibehe) began cross-examining by as asking if the witness know the consequences of lying on oath? He said yes! He asked again if witness know that lying on oath is Perjury which attracts imprisonment? Witness answered, “if I am convicted.”
While the session was going on, the Premium Times correspondent was recording with his mobile phone. Infact another colleague was also recording. It obviously must have been planned. The judge observed it, and ask my colleague in red shirt who he is. The court asked again, he mentioned his first name and told court he is a journalist from Premium Times. At that instance the policeman who sat directly behind the journalist drew the Court’s attention to the fact that he was recording, just as he struggled to delete it. Court ordered the phone confiscated, and that he be escorted out of the Court.
After he was escorted out, Barr Inibehe turned to the judge, abandoned his cross examanation, and raised his voice against the CJ in an attempt to justify the behavior of the journalist in court. His Lordship drew his attention to the fact that he had done that to his seniors, the witness and the court. She also recalled that he has assembled journalists after court session to publish untruth about the court which was published in several print media. I believe the CJ may have read the reports of the June 29, 2022 proceedings. Defense counsel was asked to continue his cross examination.
The CJ told him that he should not build his popularity by destroying the image she spent over 30 years to build.
Inibehe retorted that he is popular already. He then turn to the police officers seated at the back bench in the court, and hammered on the police men loudly demanding that the CJ put on record that he demanded their exit.
When it became apparent that the matter isn’t going on in the face of counsel’s (Inibehe’s) dispostion, the court ordered him to step out of the Bar. He didn’t respond, but now argued louder. When the court insisted, he obeyed. Court ordered him to remove his Wig and Gown. He refused saying that he “cannot”, and asking “why”. It was when court instructed that the clerk get a Conviction Warrant that he removed his Wig.
My thought was that, he should have pleaded for mercy at that point. He didn’t. Rather, it was two lawyers in the court who pleaded for him. This is the situation which led to his conviction, not the impression social media people have attempted to create. I saw and heard it first hand.