The Evangelist edition, July 30, 2022. By Ewa Edmund

Immediately news of the Chief Judge commiting Inibehe Effiong Esq to prison for contempt reached Ememobong Nicholas Esq., aka Aguda, The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Uyo Branch Chairman he bolted to the C.J’s court to see if there was anything to be done to rescue the situation. Incidentally, he met with Inibehe for about 20 minutes who told him his version of the unfortunate episode. The chairman also in company of volunteering lawyers there present some of whom were in the court respectfully approached the Chief Judge who graciously shared her side of the episode as well with the chairman and lawyers. Apparently, it wasn’t the first time she was having such incidence with Inibehe in her court in the same suit some of which she had had course to previously call on the Bar Chairman to talk to Inibehe Esq on his attitude towards her and other judges and magistrates in the state.
Nobody, saw Wednesday coming. What happened that day is ostensibly the mother of all episodes. Hence, My Lord’s action.


First and foremost we must understand that the legal profession is noble in it’s rooted conservative tradition such that those of us who choose to be radicals do so at our very own peril albeit for the good of humanity and even the profession itself.

And it is the duty of members of the bar (lawyers) to preserve that sanctity of the courts pursuant to our tradition. Corollary, the courts owe itself the duty to maintain its dignity by itself as well as that of lawyers. That is why we even have a Bar-Bench Committee to always secure the camaraderie between both

Sadly, the issue of decorum of lawyers before the courts in Uyo has been a clarion concern in our last two NBA branch meetings (May and June).
Hence, what transpired between our colleague Inibehe Esq., and the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State is to us more sensitive than the rest of the world perceives it.

Further sadly though not surprising, a social media mob action was unleashed on the Chief Judge based on a rather jaundiced account of the entire incidence with counterpart reciprocal missives on the lawyer himself. Both with little or no knowledge of the fact of the entire issue. This has not helped Inibehe’s case at all! If anything, it worsened it. An attack on the court is not the same thing as attacking the executives or politicians.


For me as a person, lawyer and comrade I agree with My Lord that my colleague had acted beyond his bounds. I have had my phone seized earlier this year by Justice Ntong Ntong for recording proceedings with it without first seeking and obtaining the court’s consent and even having the temerity to engage My Lord very passionately on the contents of my contemptuous recording. Luckily for me, my phone was only seized. I’d quickly apologized and explained the circumstances that led to my making the said recording. There was no one to take notes for me on the said day. By this time it had dawned on me that I had breached a very sacred ground. These things happen to us lawyers in the heat of our passion to prosecute our client’s case. My good friend and brother Koko Esq the prosecuting counsel on the other side enjoyed the whole drama that day. Perhaps, it’s this heat of passion that overwhelmed counsel on that fateful day.

On three other different occasions in my small ten years at the bar I’ve escaped being committed for contempt on account of my appearance before the court. At one occasion I’d forgotten to don my bip and when My Lord asked that I explain to the court why I shouldn’t be committed for contempt for appearing naked before the court, I courteously told the court that the bip fell off my neck while I was running to the court. God forbid that I said it was in my pocket all along. Then I appealed for mercy. The then Vice President 1 of the NBA Francis Ekwere Esq., appealed to the court on my behalf and Abasiodiong my then senior partner in chambers did same. Since that day, my bip hangs on the rear mirror of my car.

On another occasion it was that the shade of the colour of my suit was not conservative enough. In open court I profusely apologized and promised never to repeat that suit again so that I could continue with my client’s case which took me to the court in the first place.

I share these examples to help the uninitiated ones understand that as lawyers we risk going in for contempt every day we step into the court even before we rise up or open our mouth to say a word before the court. Hence, the need for us to conduct ourselves and affairs modestly and respectfully before and outside the court.

Our radicality is more exercised in full force outside the courts and in the finesse of our lines of arguments and processes before the court not in our attitude before the court. We can challenge the court’s dogmatism without necessarily wrestling with the court.

In fact, the confidence we have as lawyers to confront law enforcement officers, corporations, institutions et al whether for our clients or for the interest of the public is that when we get to the court we will be listened to. To provoke such court unnecessarily is therefore dangerous to us, our career and our clients.

To this extent, the lawyer was wrong. The same court had magnanimously granted his application to set aside its alleged 3 years old default judgment. That is something the lawyers on the otherside should be protesting to the high heavens. If the same court refuses to recuse itself of the case as he had later applied which is not an application that must be automatically granted considering that the counsel on the other side is entitled to oppose it, counsel knows very well that that decision is final at the level of the court and can be very well tested in appellate jurisdictions. Incidentally, the court did not even deny the application. It rather urged counsel to continue with the business of the day and that the said application would be heard thereafter. The tradition in such circumstance is for lawyers to take the hint of court. And if the said hint is reneged there is the step to take. Appeal.

Our disagreements with the courts are expressed in appeals until it gets to the supreme court where if we still disagree we are left with God only to appeal to.

Having said that, may I now also state here that as a minister in the temple of justice I most respectfully beg to disagree with My Lord on the severity of the punishment for contempt. 1 month imprisonment feels like 30 years. I swear to My Lord.

Of course, some of us understand that the severity is based on the fact that My Lord may have had to put up with counsel’s episodes since he took over the said case. It wasn’t just for disrespecting the court even to the extent of pointing fingers at My Lord and shouting “you’re the cause of all these nonsense” as we’ve allegedly learned.
But that itself is SCANDALOUS if true.

Thus, it’s a cumulative of antecedent irrectitude by counsel in the said suit before the court. Perhaps, My Lord will be moved as the mother of justice that she has been known to be in her almost 40 years post call and three decades at the bar to pardon counsel and order his release and possibly set aside the contempt ruling. This we appeal for the further interest of justice as even the ruling itself was in the interest of justice as well.

Now, I have taken my time to come public on this issue because as the Assistant Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, Uyo Branch I am being careful not to have my position mistaken for the position of the Bar. Thus, this is my personal position. And from my involvement so far I am proud to say that the Bar, Uyo branch has not abandoned counsel in this difficult time of his activism. But I must also state here that it is equally difficult for the Bar. Rescuing a lawyer from the court on contempt issues has never been a walk in the park. In fact, it is like struggling a knife with another person holding the handle of the knife while you hold the blade. The moment the other fellow drags the handle blood flows. You can only get that knife if the person willingly releases it.

Accordingly, as a Bar we figured it is safer to seek respite for our colleague by other means of engagement other than confrontation. Such approach will only take time. What ever other approach or processes filed will still take time and even more and is subject to the discretion of the courts. The lady of justice though blind must be wooed, charmed, courted, patronized and worshiped to be blessed. Lawyers know this.

Let me thank the Uyo Bar Chairman for his swift show of solidarity. Some chairmen would have said Inibehe isn’t our member. I’ve witnessed this in other branches before. Some would have waited for Inibehe and/or the chief judge to officially inform them before acting.

For the rest of us, our solidarity with the counsel and for the judge as well is appreciated. As one who knows the Chief Judge very well I can assure us that My Lord has no personal interest in the matter or the said counsel. If there’s any judge that is friendly, caring and considerate yet very principled she’s the first of them all.
I remember the day I went to congratulate her in company of Onna upon her elevation as Acting Chief Judge. I had to remind her how she once cautioned me over my attitude in a particular matter before her thanking her for the motherly ruling she rather gave despite the insistence of a very senior lawyer on the otherside insisting that I should be punished severely. My Lord, had to think again to recall the incidence.

Comrades, if we do not collectively protect the dignity of the courts then we lack the morality to look to it as the hope of the common man. We cannot crucify the same court we run to for help in time of despair. In similar fashion, we need more warriors. Inibehe Esq has donated himself in that line of service. It is therefore our duty to preserve him for the days of war. And trust me, those days shall surely come.

And please I want to appeal again that attacking the judiciary or chief judge won’t help our case. Litigation lawyers know what I mean. Even lawyers supporting the counsel themselves agree that he had gone over board. Themselves will never wear his gown before a judge or magistrate. In fact, Learned Silk, Falana Falana SAN having been fully abreast with the matter knows that confrontation is not the answer. As we speak, even the court of appeal is on vacation.

In all, the life and career of a lawyer is an endangered one. Judges’ as well. It is therefore our duty to preserve them, the lawyer and the judge, if we must have what we call a society to live in.

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