Why do we keep doing things the same way, and yet expect a different result?
Since yesterday morning, the press and social media have been awash with the news of the latest brouhaha from Cross River State – the refusal of the State House of Assembly to confirm Honourable Justice Akon Ikpeme as substantive Chief Judge of the State despite her recommendation by the National Judicial Council (allegedly on the ground that she is a ‘security risk’ being ethnically from neighbouring Akwa Ibom State). It is on record that His Lordship is married to a Cross Riverian, has lived and worked all her adult life in, and served Cross River State meritoriously.
It is sad that in 2020, when great advances are being made elsewhere in robotics and artificial intelligence through cross-border collaborations, in Nigeria we continue to occupy our time with enthroning ethnic biases and tokenism. ‘State of Origin’ has continued to dominate our national discourse and take centre-stage in our deliberations and appointments, and to trump merit and competence. We insist that where one comes from is weightier than what one has to offer!
The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (‘the NBA’) – Mr. Paul Usoro SAN – has issued a well-articulated statement denouncing the non-confirmation of Honourable Justice Akon Ikpeme by the Cross River State House of Assembly and rather hasty appointment of Honourable Justice Maurice Eneji as Acting Chief Judge by the State Governor. He has called ‘on both the Executive and Legislative arms of the CRS Government to urgently retrace their steps and confirm Ikpeme J for appointment as the substantive Chief Judge of Cross River State’. As the official spokesman of the NBA, the Statement issued by the NBA President is the official position of the Bar on the issue, and it has been applauded and cited with approval by bar leaders across the country. The Chairman and Secretary of the Calabar Branch of the NBA have also issued a terse statement in very similar terms. I concur without reservation.
It is easy to appreciate the pain and anguish that the noble Jurist must be feeling right now. Honourable Justice Ikpeme has given her life-blood in service to her adopted state. She was considered good enough to slave away all these years – putting in long hours of ardous work and intellectual input in dispensing justice and discharging the duties of her judicial office. She was considered good enough to be a Judge of the High Court of Cross River State. She was even ‘safe’ enough to be allowed to ‘act’ temporarily in the capacity of Chief Judge… but suddenly she has become ‘a security risk’, and is not good enough to be substantive Chief Judge of the State!
This type of prejudice continues to dog our national existence. This elevation of ‘State of Origin’ over and beyond ‘State of Residence or Domicile’. It beggars belief that someone who left her place of ethnic origin to settle somewhere else, found love, married into the new place, gave up her own and took on a new ethnic identity, can be rejected in this manner. That someone who has worked all her adult life for and diligently served the government and people of her adopted home, who has paid her taxes to and helped grow the economy of her new place, can be told at the point where her career ought to climax with the crown of achievement that ‘sorry, you do not belong here’ is a deep stab indeed. It is cruel and unjust, and should not be allowed to stand.
I therefore add my voice in re-broadcast of the position of the NBA, and call upon the Executive and Legislative arms of the Cross Rivers State Government to retract their actions and right this wrong.
And as we of the legal profession press forward with this call, we must ignite vigorous interrogation of the continuing emphasis we place on ‘ethnicity’ or ‘state of origin’ as opposed to ‘domicile’ or ‘state of residence’ in our national consciousness. The world is evolving and we cannot stand still or bury our heads in the sand. It is apposite that we lead the reform.
Former Chairman – NBA Lagos Branch
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