Communal land dispute: Lawyers fight over representation of dead plaintiffs in Enugu High Court

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There was mild drama on Tuesday in an Enugu State High Court presided over by Justice C. C. Ani as counsels fought over legal representation of five dead plaintiffs in a land dispute.
Ugwuaji community in Enugu South Local Government Area instituted the case against Ogui Nike community Enugu North Local Government Area in 2005 in suit No. E/439/2005 between Benjamin Atu, Aneke Ede, Jackson Nshi, Ewo Nnaji, Godwin Ani and Sunday Ngene for themselves and Ugwuaji community.
The first set of respondents are Igwe Tony Ojukwu, Joseph Nnaji, Ikechukwu Agbo and Paul Anike for themselves and members of Ogui Nike community.

But when the matter came up on Tuesday, counsel to the first set of defendants, Mr Kelvin Nwufor (SAN) told the court that the five plaintiffs on record were dead.

Nwufor, therefore, brought a motion to substitute them.

He said that the rules provide that either the lawyers for the plaintiffs or defendants could apply to bring new plaintiffs in such circumstance.

He said that the first set of defendants had waited for too long for the counsel to the plaintiffs to bring a motion to substitute the plaintiffs on record.

The counsel, therefore, sought to substitute the dead plaintiffs with living plaintiffs from the same community.

He told the court that the dead plaintiffs had earlier withdrawn their statements of claim before their demise and that it was improper for anyone to claim to be representing dead plaintiffs.

“You cannot be representing anyone who is in the grave,” he said.

Nwufor also moved a motion to substitute one of the first set of defendants , Igwe Tony Ojukwu whom he said was late with Mr Donatus Ojukwu.

However, Mr Emeka Offordile (SAN), who announced his appearance for the  plaintiffs objected to the submissions of Nwufor to substitute the five plaintiffs on record.

Offordile said that the issue of representation of the plaintiffs was contentious, adding that it had to be resolved first before substitution..

Also, MrChimezie Nkwor, who also entered appearance for the plaintiffs, said that he was duly briefed to take take over the matter from Offordile.

Nkwor said that he had filed and served Offordile the application of change of counsel in the matter, adding that the application was ripped for hearing.

The counsel while moving the motion on the application told the court that he was the right person to represent the community.

He prayed the court to recognise  him as the rightful counsel to the plaintiffs and strike out the name of Offordile.

In an interview, Offordile said that he had been representing the community since the matter started in 2005.

He,  however, said that some  young men in the community brought an application for change of counsel in the matter.

“But there are others who said they do not have problems with me as their counsel,” Offordile said.

Meanwhile, Ani, who had earlier told the counsels that the court would prefer to resolve the issue of legal representation adjourned the matter until Sept. 29, 2020 for continuation of adoption of processes.

It was gathered that the disputed land measuring over 300 plots is the same land that the state government recently set up an administrative panel of inquiry to determine its true ownership.

Also six judges of the state high court was said to have heard the matter since it was instituted. 

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