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Gani Fawehinmi and Inibehe Effiong and Jail for Contempt

Inibehe Effiong: When The Bench Is Intimidated By The Popularity Of The Bar…

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January 5, 1990, legendary Comrade Richard Akinnola, one of Nigeria’s most prolific judicial encyclopedia, did a report in the Vanguard Newspaper with the headline: “Gani Goes To Jail For Contempt.”

Justice Ligali Ayorinde, then Acting Chief Judge of Lagos State, had sentenced Gani Fawehinmi to jail for 12 months for contempt, because like Barrister Inibehe Effiong asked of the acting Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Gani also asked that Justice Ligali Ayorinde, should recuse himself from the defamation case against him by Col. Haliru Akilu and Lt-Col. A.K. Togun and transfer the case to another judge.

That obnoxious decision and intimidation by Justice Ligali Ayorinde, was upturned by the Court of Appeal.

Today in Nigeria, I am sure that almost everyone reading this knows who Gani Fawehinmi is and will only be wondering who Ligali Ayorinde was unless for people familiar with a street named after him in Victoria Island, Lagos.

The attempt by some pundits to finger the so called intimidating behaviour of Barrister Inibehe Effiong before Her Lordship in the Uyo High Court is the usual smokescreen employed by reactionary elements to conceal under-the-table deals that they cut with politicians, after meeting their match in the court rooms. It’s not a new thing. Which is why I recalled the Gani Fawehinmi episode.

Repeatedly, the acting Chief Judge of the Akwa Ibom State, Justice Ekaette Francesca Fabian Obot, has reportedly cautioned and warned Inibehe in Court over some of his applications and insistence against her decisons.

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She has also threatened in the past to commit Inibehe to prison. Inibehe, not convinced that his client will get fair judgment from Justice Ekaette, asked her to recuse herself and re-assign the matter to another judge.

That’s where issues began to escalate. If the judge was not intimidated by the popularity of Inibehe on Channels TV, she won’t tell counsel that her court is not channels TV or AKBC. The bar’s popularity sure intimidated the bench.

During my own treason trial, the judge handling my trial descended into the arena and Adeyinka Fusika SAN, had a very serious shouting match with the judge in open court.

The moment it was clear that the prosecution and the court were always in prior contact before court sittings and when the judge started saying unprintable things to me in the dock in open court; how he can do whatever he wants to do with my life.

How I went and brought area boy lawyer from Lagos to come and shout at the court, how he grew up in Lagos too and challenged me to a physical brawl to tell me he also grew up in Lagos, how Gani Fawehinmi walked out on the court like my lawyers did and Ken Saro Wiwa was still sentenced to death and executed and nothing happened etc.

It was clear to my lawyers that the judge was biased and needed to hands off my matter but he was reluctant and insisted on a secret trial.

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The lawyers also had to dig it out with him in his court. Maybe because Inibehe is not yet a SAN like Fusika, he was easily docked and jailed.

I think that it is actually some members of the bench who connive with criminal and vindictive politicians to short change litigants who come to court that bring shame and disrespect to the legal profession the most.

It is a settled matter that court decisions can only be challenged in higher courts but when those decisions have not been reached, lawyers must have the liberty to do what ever they can to protect their clients, particularly, where it is clear and obvious that there is biase.

Judges are not angels from heaven. They are human beings with all our frailties and we only sin differently and they should also realize that, like them, lawyers are also part of the temple of Justice.

If we who stand in the dock cannot speak in the face of intimidation, it will be double tragedy if our lawyers also will be intimated into silence by mere and baseless accusations of wrongful demeanor before a court.

There is no law that forbids electronic recording of court proceedings in Nigeria to the best of my knowledge.

I think we should begin to record these proceedings or regularly release CCTV camera recordings of these courts proceedings and make them available for the public on critical matters like these with high political interests and let’s see how we can minimize the encroachment from both ends if any.

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