It was a dramatic scene today in Akwa Ibom State, as a high court in the state sent a popular human rights lawyer Inibehe Effiong who has reportedly been sent to Uyo prison while in court representing his client against the governor of the state.
An NGO; SERAP has positioned that 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.
Many people are surprised about the development, and looking forward to hearing from the judge's explanation.
The case involved: Governor Emmanuel sued Mr Ekpenyong, a lawyer, for defamation of character over the publication in which he accused the governor of “buying judgment” from the 2019 National Assembly Election Tribunal, an accusation the lawyer denied.
The court had ordered Mr Ekpenyong to pay the governor N1.5 billion as general damages for libel.
In another defamation suit between a former senator, Effiong Bob, and Mr Ekpenyong, which is before the same judge, the court had ordered Mr Ekpenyong to pay N150 million as damages to Mr Bob.
Both judgments were given simultaneously on December 15, 2020, by Justice Obot.
The defendant’s counsel, Mr Effiong, on November 25, 2021, challenged the court that it breached the Nigerian Constitution in its judgments against his client.
Justice Obot scolded Mr Effiong for asking the court to set aside the two judgments and grant his application for extension of time for his client to defend himself.
The case attracted public attention last year when the judge lashed out at Mr Effiong.
“You’re not on Channels TV, don’t stand before me and talk nonsense,” she had said.
The court, however, set aside both judgments on February 16, 2022, and granted the application for extension of time as requested by Mr Effiong.