Nigerians reacted angrily on Wednesday to the order for the imprisonment of a popular human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, over alleged contempt of court.
The Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Ekaette Obot, sentenced Effiong to prison for defending a journalist.
Justice Obot committed Effiong for contempt while representing a client against whom the State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, had filed libel charges, when he (Effiong) prayed the judge that heavily armed policemen be asked to leave the courtroom, after the same judge ordered journalists out of the court.
In a series of tweets via his Twitter handle, Effiong said Justice Obot sent him to Uyo prison for one month for defending Leo Ekpenyong in a libel suit filed by Governor Udom Emmanuel.
Effiong said that two lawyers in the court appealed to the Chief Judge but he insisted that the Lagos-based lawyer must be jailed.
It was understood that Justice Obot, in previous proceedings, had reportedly ordered court officials to temporarily seize phones from reporters and others in the courtroom, apparently to prevent the proceedings from being recorded secretly.
Many angry citizens took to the micro-blogging platform, Twitter to express their reactions to the order for the imprisonment of the lawyer.
Olumide Akpata of the Nigerian Bar Association has said that the lawyer should rest assured of the body’s support.
In a tweet, he said, “Be rest assured @InibeheEffiong that this ruling can’t stand. If they go hard, we go harder! U will be out before u know it. We will not sleep on this illegality until you regain your inalienable rights of freedom to defend your clients as per your profession! @OlumideAkpata of NBA.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said “My attention has been drawn to the events happening in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, wherein the Chief Judge of the State was said to have sentenced Mr. Inibehe Effiong, a colleague and an activist, to one month imprisonment for contempt of court.
“I do not have the details or the full facts of the case but I am in touch with Mr. Femi Falana, SAN and I also have reliable information that the Nigerian Bar Association is on top of the matter.
“I urge that the existing cordial relationship between the Bench and the Bar should be maintained so that we do not get distracted by the ruling class who work daily to drive a wedge between the two Siamese twins, who both man the administration of the Justice system in Nigeria.
“I hope that in due course, the details of the matter will unfold and we all will be well advised on the best approach in the circumstances.”
On its part, the Socio and Economic Rights and Accountability Project, has asked the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, to immediately and unconditionally release Effiong.
SERAP, in a statement on its Twitter handle said the decision of Justice Ekaette Obot to jail a lawyer for doing his job violates local and international laws.
The statement reads: “Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel must immediately and unconditionally release lawyer Inibehe Effiong who has reportedly been sent to Uyo prison while in court representing his client against the governor. We’ll see in court if Effiong is not immediately released.
“Sending a lawyer to prison simply for representing his client in court is a blatant violation of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and the country’s international human rights obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“Lawyers should never be arrested or detained for representing their clients in court or identifying with their clients’ causes, not even when handling a libel case instituted by a state governor.”
In the same vein, the African Action Congress Party has condemned in the strongest terms, the arrest and remand of its National Legal Adviser, Inibehe Effiong.
Reacting to the development, AAC in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Femi Adeyeye, demanded the immediate release of the lawyer from detention, failure of which, the party warned that it would carry out a mass action.
The party also demanded that a disciplinary action be taken against Justice Obot for what it described as reckless abuse of judicial authority and desecration of what ought to be the hallowed temple of justice.
The statement read, “The parody of democracy that Nigerians live under has again been brought to the fore with the distressing news of the remand of Mr. Inibehe Effiong in prison while carrying out his legitimate duty as a lawyer and officer in the temple of justice. This is shocking to all members of the African Action Congress (AAC) and lovers of human rights globally.
“Barrister Inibehe was committed for contempt and ordered to be remanded in Uyo Prisons by the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Ekaette Obot in a reckless abuse of judicial authority and desecration of what ought to be the hallowed temple of justice.
“According to reports from Mr. Inibehe and other eye-witnesses, our party’s legal adviser who was representing a client against whom the State Governor, Udom Emmanuel had filed libel charges, only prayed the judge that heavily armed policemen be asked to leave the courtroom, after the same judge had ordered journalists out of the court in what ought to be a public trial.
“It is obvious that all these intimidation tactics are the machinations of the state government, under Udom Emmanuel, the Akwa Ibom State Governor who has continued to act like a tyrant in a supposed democracy and suborned the judiciary.
“The action of the Chief Judge acting the script of the tyrant Governor against a lawyer in the legitimate pursuit of his duties is pure judicial rascality, judicial shamelessness and judicial recklessness. It is a fruitless conspiratorial attempt to intimidate a counsel, a fighter of human rights in the legitimate activity of representing his client.
“We call for the immediate release of Inibehe Effiong now! Failure to release him with immediate effect would be met with serious mass actions.”