By Emmanuel Nzomiwu,
National Judicial Council (NJC) has queried Chief Judge (CJ) of Enugu State, Innocent Umezulike, over his conduct in suit No. E/270/2012 between Ichie Jude Okuli and National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Victor Umeh.
Justice Umezulike was given one month to respond to the query, dated October 4 and personally signed by Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman of the NJC, Aloma Mariam Muktar.
The query reads: “I forward herewith a petition dated 21st September 2012 by one Chief Sir Victor Umeh, KSJ, JP, APGA National Chairman, on the above subject matter. The petition is self explanatory. I shall be glad to have your comments within one month from the date of receipt of this letter, please.”
The query was copied to Umeh, the only defendant in the suit.
It was prompted by a petition he lodged with the NJC, complaining about gross abuse of due process of the law by the CJ.
The APGA boss alleged that Justice Umezulike erred in his handling of the case, especially by refusing to rule on the preliminary objection which he brought before the court, and was duly argued by both counsel.
Umeh told the NJC that the CJ extended the life span of the ex-parte order he made against him on July 25 by extra 48 days against the High Court Rule of Enugu State that says an ex-parte order cannot last beyond 14 days.
He explained that by the action of Justice Umezulike, the ex-parte order which ought not to last more than 14 days was extended to 55 days without any request by any of the parties in the matter.
Part of his petition reads: “By 31st July 2012, the CJ took full arguments on notice of preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the case.
“The CJ adjourned the matter to 17th September 2012 for a rendition of the considered ruling of the court on the notice of preliminary objection.
“In adjourning the matter, the CJ stated that ‘if this court accedes to the contentions of the defendants/ applicants on any of the above issues, this suit shall legitimately come to an end …In the event, I shall adjourn the case for a considered ruling on the merits. In the circumstances, the interim order of this court shall endure against the parties and against the convention of any APGA Executive Committee Meetings as stated under the order until the court’s rendition of a ruling which I now fixed for the 20th day of September, 2012’,” Umeh said.
He, however, regretted that on September 17 when the ruling ought to have been delivered by the CJ, to the amazement of the people who gathered in court, Justice Umezulike declared that he would rather hear the main suit and deliver judgment on the preliminary objection and the main suit together.
The direction taken by the court, Umeh said, exposed the CJ as being desperate to get into the main matter and deliver judgement against him, knowing that the notice of preliminary objection was strong enough to have legitimately terminated the suit.
The APGA chairman noted that in his letter of September 19 to the CJ, he requested for the transfer/re-assignment of the case to another judge.
He said he informed Justice Umezulike that he no longer had confidence in obtaining justice in his court, being reasonably satisfied that he was biased, compromised and intent on causing mischief for APGA.
He regretted that since July 25 till date, activities in the party had been halted because of the ex-parte order, which had paralysed the entire party apparatus and therefore urged the NJC chairman to urgently intervene by calling Justice Umezuluike to order, and ensure that the due process was followed.
“In this era of rule of law, as an ardent believer in the ideals of democracy, I have no doubt that impartiality is an important hallmark of due administration of justice.
“I will be grateful if the Chief Judge of Enugu State is made to understand that every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to justice and fair hearing,” the APGA boss stated.
Similarly, Umeh submitted another petition to the NJC against the CJ on his conduct on October 8 in court where he (CJ) refused to disqualify himself from the case based on a motion for disqualification before the court and proceeded to rule on the matter without representation from his counsel.
Meanwhile Umeh has appealed against the interlocutory injunction granted last Monday by Justice Umezulike restraining him from acting as National Chairman of APGA, pending the determination of the substantive suit before the court. Umeh has also concluded plans to file a motion before the Court of Appeal, asking for a stay of execution of the injunction granted by the Enugu State High Court.