In a country like Nigeria where power is mostly used in abuse, experience has shown that anything at all is possible. In Nigeria, experience has shown that what is certain in saner climes can assume a frightening murkiness behind which anything at all can be obfuscated.
So, it happened that on July 27,2022, the bad blood brewing between Theresa Ekaette Obong, the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State and Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer, boiled over during judicial proceedings in a defamation cased filed by Emmanuel Udom, the current Governor of Akwa Ibom State and Leo Ekpenyong, a lawyer.
When the dust settled, Inibehe Effiong was escorted to the Ikot Ekpene Correctional Center by the order of the honourable chief judge.
Intemperance or insubordination?
As soon as the news of the popular Lagos-based lawyer crashed the airwaves, accounts began to emerge and with them an unmistakable history of testy encounters between the lawyer and the chief judge.
Apparently, there had been shouting matches in court, and refusal by the judge to apply known rules of procedure which hinted at ulterior motives. The judge had repeatedly threatened to jail the lawyer.
However, what is clear is that on the fateful day, both parties came to court prepared for each other. While the Chief Judge was said to have invited two heavily armed policemen into the court to stand guard while the proceedings were ongoing, a development the lawyer protested, the lawyer was said to have come with a battery of journalists to cover the proceedings.
Those familiar with judicial proceedings in Nigeria know that there is usually only a thin line between insubordination on the part of the lawyer, and intemperance on the part of the judge.The finest of lawyers and judges know how to tread these lines even in the heat of judicial proceedings so as to avoid embarrassing fallouts like what happened on July 27, 2022, which has brought odium the way of the judiciary and all those who are stakeholders in it.
Apparently, without compliance with the prescripts of judicial proceedings, Inibehe Effiong was sentenced to spend a month in prison. Given the unique hurdles of the appeal process, and the current vacation of the Akwa Ibom State High Court, he may end up spending all that time in prison for doing nothing beyond defending his Client.
A fraught relationship
The legal profession is an interesting one, perhaps, the most interesting of them all. Lawyers are called to the Bar. With time, judges are drawn from the ranks of lawyers to decide matters that come before them in the interest of justice.
As corruption has seeped like sewage into the brittle bones of Nigeria, the way and manner lawyers are recruited to become judges in Nigeria has continued to raise eyebrows with family interests and nepotism mostly directing judicial appointments in Nigeria.
Thus, for many judges, once their elevation is confirmed, their allegiance is not in doubt, and it is not primarily to the constitution. With eyes gleaming with condescension, they look with contempt on the lawyers who appear before them, beholden only to the patronage of those who helped them beat off other candidates for the judicial slots.
This has always been a source of friction between the bar and the bench and in spite of the widespread recognition that the bar has some really rotten eggs within its ranks, the most rotten of them all can usually call on some complicit judges to bend the rules of justice.
So, what obtains is a shockingly divided house which is usually in for a shellacking by administrations like the current one which has sought to deflect blame for its catastrophic failures to lawyers and judges.
An injudicious moment
If on the said day, Inibehe Effiong was in contempt of the court, then by all means, the court should have given him the benefit of fair hearing in the interest of justice, to preserve the paramountcy of the dignity of the judiciary.
But if he did nothing beyond properly defending his Client, and the Honourable Chief Judge only regurgitated her bile for him in service of interests beyond the interest of justice, then for whom are the gates of the temple of justice open these days? For the rich and powerful, for the poor and oppressed, or for everybody?
It is a good thing that the outcry against the events of that day has been great.
By all means, let all the truth fully come into the open, so that whoever is found to have overstepped their bounds would be forcefully thrust within those bounds.