The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has condemned Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State for alleging that a recent court judgment, which removed him and his deputy, Kelechi Igwe, for defection was ‘influenced’.
During a press briefing in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State on Tuesday, Umahi described the judgment as a miscarriage of justice and an attempt to embarrass the All Progressives Congress (APC) where he, in November 2020, defected to with 16 members of the state assembly.
Umahi was quoted as saying, “I have heard the rumours before now that he (Justice Ekwo) was determined to give judgment against all known laws and the constitution.”
But in a statement signed on Wednesday by the NBA President, Olumide Akpata, the association described Umahi’s “unprecedented” comments as “a national embarrassment, disgraceful, undemocratic, and completely unacceptable.”
The statement read in part, “Following the judgment, Engr. Umahi, in the course of a press conference -video evidence of which is currently making the rounds on both new and mainstream media – threw caution to the wind and deployed very uncomplimentary adjectives and intemperate language in characterising both the judgment and Hon. Justice Ekwo, including but not limited to describing the judgment as ‘jungle justice’ and His Lordship as ‘a hatchet man’.
“As if these were not enough, Engr. Umahi accused the court of ‘murdering justice’ and also arrogated to himself the judicial powers and magisterial authority to declare the judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction as null and void while unashamedly declaring his intention to disregard the Judgment in favour of another. To put it plainly, this is impunity of the highest order and executive rascality taken too far.
“While the NBA has absolutely no interest in the outcome of the case in question and will continue to stay away from partisan politics, it is inconceivable that this association that is charged with upholding the rule of law and defending the judiciary would sit idly by in the face of this unprovoked and totally unwarranted attack on the judiciary. Indeed, the leadership of the NBA has been inundated with calls from a cross-section of well-meaning Nigerians who are understandably outraged by the utterances of Engr. Dave Umahi and who have rightly demanded that appropriate action be taken to protect the sanctity of the judiciary.
“It is for this reason that we condemn without equivocation, Engr. Umahi’s unfortunate diatribe which, if it had emanated from an average litigant, would still have been regarded as shocking but coming from one who occupies the exalted office of a state governor, is nothing short of a national embarrassment.
“In the wake of the Judgment, one would have expected Engr. Umahi to sue for calm from his supporters and to assure them that all legal and constitutional avenues would be explored to challenge the Judgment. For H.E. Engr. Umahi to instead resort to attacking and denigrating the high office of a judge in an unprecedented manner is disgraceful, undemocratic, and completely unacceptable.
“As Kayode Eso, JSC of blessed memory famously noted, ‘[t]he essence of the rule of law is that it should never operate under the rule of force or fear.’ We view Engr. Umahi’s reaction to this judgment as being consistent with the current penchant, on the part of those in the executive arm of government, for intimidating the judiciary whilst taking advantage of the historical reluctance of that arm of government to rise to its own defence.
“In light of the foregoing, the NBA hereby demands an immediate apology from H.E. Engr. Dave Umahi and a retraction of the comments he made against the person and judgment of the Hon. Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court. It is also our demand that this apology and retraction be given as much media coverage as the press conference where the unfortunate comments were made.”