Human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, has challenged the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Ekaette Obot, to release CCTV footage of what transpired in court on the day he was sentenced to prison for alleged contempt of court.
The judge, Mrs Obot, committed Mr Effiong to one-month imprisonment on 27 July after the lawyer objected to the presence of two armed police operatives inside the courtroom.
Justice Obot, in the record of proceedings she released recently, claimed that the young lawyer pointed his hands at her and also banged at a table during the hearing of a defamation suit, in which Mr Effiong was the defendant’s counsel.
The Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, is the plaintiff in the suit.
But Mr Effiong has denied Justice Obot’s claim.
“I’m using this opportunity to publicly urge and appeal to My Lord the Honourable Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, My Lord the Honourable Justice Ekaette Fabian Obot to please, release the CCTV camera of that day.
“Because I am told, I am aware to the best of my knowledge that there is CCTV inside that courtroom, My Lord the Chief Judge’s court. Let all lawyers in Nigeria see when Inibehe pointed at the Honourable Chief Judge. Let them also see when Inibehe banged at the table,” Mr Effiong said on Friday to reporters immediately after he was released from Uyo prison.
“Even if I was the most insolent lawyer in Nigeria, you do not have to scandalise my name and attribute to me a conduct that never took place in court just to justify what is clearly unjustifiable,” the lawyer said.
Minutes before Justice Obot sentenced Mr Effiong to prison, she had ordered a PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter, Saviour Imukudo, out of her court for doing an audio recording of the proceedings “without the court’s permission”.
The reporter was detained and his phone confiscated by a police operative on the order of Justice Obot. He was later released and his phone handed over to him after the judge compelled him to delete the recording.
Mr Effiong narrated what happened in the court on that day.
“I was about to start my cross examination and I turned back, again I saw two armed policemen with AK47, one to my right, one to my left. This had created so much hostility and I said My Lord, I have also observed the presence of two armed policemen in court.
“I said, My Lord, even though I am ordinarily not intimidated by their presence but by their being here with arms, seated behind me, they have created hostility in the court, which has made it uncomfortable for me and difficult for me to proceed with the proceedings and I pleaded with the court to excuse them. My Lord didn’t accept our plea.
“Again, maybe that was my offence. I did not give up because I have a duty as a lawyer to defend the course of justice.
“I said, My Lord, respectfully, I am now making it as a formal application in which case Your Lordship would have to render a decision. I said, however, if Your Lordship overrules me, I would be bound by the order of the court and I would proceed with my cross-examination.
“At that point, My Lord picked up a pen, My Lord started writing. You know, as a lawyer, when you are addressing the court and the court is writing, you are excited that the court is taking note of what you are saying. I thought My Lord was writing what I was saying, not knowing it was my committal order to prison.
“The next thing I heard was, ‘You there, step out of the bar’.
“I stepped out of the bar. I did not fight. And then My Lord said, derobe yourself and I must also say again I did not derobe immediately. I must place the record as it is because I cannot derobe as a lawyer in court if I don’t know the reason I should derobe. It is like taking away my Call-to-Bar certificate. I said, My Lord, if I derobe I can no longer address the court as a counsel. My Lord said ‘you are no longer a lawyer, I no longer recognise you because I am sending you to prison’.
“I didn’t believe it. The next thing My Lord did was to read what My Lord had already written, ‘You are hereby sentenced to one month imprisonment, to be remanded at the Correction Centre until you purge yourself of contempt’.
“And then I removed my wig. My Lord ordered the two armed policemen, ‘Hold him, hold him. Make sure he does not leave. Hold him, make sure he does not escape’.
“And I told the policemen, even if I escape, people outside will know that I am the one that is running. Where will I run to? Where in Akwa Ibom will I hide?”