Analysis On FCT Judiciary System



The rot in the nation’s judiciary recently took another dimension in Federal Capital Territory (FCT) arm of the system which no doubt has cast a cloud over the inner sanctuary of the Abuja Bench. This may have necessitated the National Judicial Council (NJC), led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, into asking the Chief Judge of the FCT, Justice Lawal Gummi some curious questions. ONYINYECHI UDEMEZUE writes on what some stakeholders in system tagged ‘act of miscarriage of justice’ involving a serving state governor and a private business organisation.

If the recent ruling by Justice Jude Okeke of High Court 21 of the Federal Capital Territory on a case brought before the court by Nestello Gateways Group, a corporate organisation against the Governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari was adhered to without unnecessary delays, it would have to an extent restored some level of confidence in the FCT judiciary.

Nestello Gateways Group some time ago dragged the Zamfara state Governor Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari who was then a serving member of the House of Representatives to court over a property the company rented out to him in 2008 which the Governor later claimed to have bought from aformer employee of the company, Mr. Obinna Kanu sometime in 2010.

The former employee, Obinna Kanu, who is now on the run and has since been declared wanted by the police, was alleged to have sold the property without the consent of the owners.

In the ruling delivered by Justice Okeke on June 11, 2010, the judge had ordered the eviction of the Governor and had also ordered him to pay outstanding rent arrears and mense profit, totalling about N400, 000 to the owners of the property.

But for some inexplicable administrative delays, the eviction order could not be affected until May 8, 2012. The eviction order was successfully executed with every single unit of the Governor’s personal effects evacuated and moved to a Magistrate Court in Karu, one of the satellite towns in the FCT.

Surprisingly, without any recourse to the court, the possession of the property was reverted to Governor Yari the very next day, May 9, 2010, supposedly on “orders from above”. And based on this strange order, the Governor moved back into the house with all his personal property earlier seized by the court released to him.

Nettled by the Governor’s action, owners of the property had gone back to court to seek enforce of the eviction order. Consequently, the court ordered another eviction on the same property on October 15, 2012.

Fortified with the court judgment and police approval to that effect, the court’s enforcement officers arrived at the property only to be met in the premises by a stern looking Governor Yari, with five heavily armed mobile policemen. The enforcement officers were however prevented from executing the order by the stern looking armed policemen.

In a report submitted to the Director of Litigation and signed by the court’s enforcement team leader, Mallam Abunakar Karofi and dated October 16, 2012, the court officials recounted what they described as an awful experience in the course of their official duty.

Our reporter obtained a certified copy of the report which read thus, “on the 15th of October, 2012, we went to the premises known as No. 1 Fatai Williams Street, Asokoro, Abuja (herein after referred to as the premises) to enforce and handover the keys to the premises as previously approved by the Deputy Sheriff and the Director of Litigation. The ruling was given by Hon. Justice Jude Okeke on the 26th September, 2012.

“All necessary paper work was done and concluded before we set out to enforce the said judgment. We got the Police report and the police approval, which we used to book our arrival at the Asokoro Police Station to notify them of our purpose and destination. Upon our arrival at the residence, we met about 8 people who unknown to us, were Mobile Policemen, supposedly stationed in the premises. We introduced ourselves and told them our intention, but to our greatest surprise, they said “NO”, they said nothing will be enforced; they quickly went inside the house and appeared fully dressed in their Mobile Police Uniform and carrying guns.

“They instantly stood between us and the building. At this juncture I, Abubakar placed a call to the Director Litigation while they also made a few calls, from their conversations; I got a hint that they were given an order not to allow us carry out the enforcement which was clear from their action (guns were cocked and pointed at us with an immediate threat of being shot if we tried anything). We asked for a reason why they were stopping and suddenly becoming very violent and they only said we should wait for their ADC who was on his way.

“I called the Director Litigation and informed her which she asked us to stay put and await further orders, but before we could get a clear order on what to do next, we heard sirens and the convoy of the governor appeared. The gate was opened and as the vehicle was literally moving the governor and the Mobile Policemen jumped down and the first thing he, the governor said was “arrest them”.

“The bailiff and the labourers were shoved inside a car and the mobile escort also grabbed me and I quickly said to him we are from the Court and have reason for being here but he was not ready to listen, a mobile police by name Jafaru Idris lifted his hand to slap me but another mobile police said “NO”. We got the names of a few mobile police that called us criminals and bundled us. They are: 1.      Jafaru Idris No. 242548, 2.Lawali AbdullahiNo. 263443, 3. Mohadi Garba No. 249841; 4. Umar Mohammed.

“I told his Excellency that we have all the paper work and approvals and thus should not be molested and treated as criminals and also went further to inform him that such action is contempt and outright disregard for the law. The Governor answered a few phone calls, I also seized the opportunity to call my Director to inform her of the situation and she told us to stay calm as she was about to see the Chief Judge. He dropped the call and asked that we should all leave his premises.

“I said with due respect Sir, we have been asked to hold on pending further instruction from our Director and he replied that he has just spoken with the Chief Judge, that who is the Director by the way. He commanded that we should “get out” and the police pushed us out of the premises. He also gave an order that no one should be allowed inside the premises, not even the Chief Judge and he left. My bailiff was released along with the other persons, but the bailiff’s phone, digital camera and 50,000 naira was seized by an inspector and never returned to him while he was being arrested. The Director Litigation arrived after they had left and asked us to all return to the office and put the incidence in writing”, the report concluded.

Apparently disturbed by this act of obstruction of justice by the Governor and the policemen, the Director of Litigation of the Court, Uche Ezinne Bilikisu on October 16, 2012, wrote a memo to the Chief Registrar, Mrs Oluwatoyin Yahaya seeking directive as to appropriate action on the matter. The Chief Registrar had minuted on the memo which she forwarded to the Chief Judge, Justice LawalGummi.

Also, a copy of the Chief Registrar’s minutes on the memo to the Chief Judge, obtained by our reporter states thus, “my lord, the narration on page 73-75 is most disappointing. I urge my lord to consider writing the Inspector General of Police and CP, FCT as the behaviour of their men”.

The minutes were dated October 17, 2012 and the Chief Judge had minuted back on the memo asking the Chief Registrar to write to the CP. But he was silent on the need to write to the Inspector General of Police, as suggested in the memo.

The Chief Judge had stated in the memo saying, “do the letter to the CP and get this matter resolved”.

Accordingly, the Director of Litigation had, on January 14, 2013 written to the then Commissioner of Police, FCT Command, Mr Aderele Shinaba reproducing extracts from the report of the Court’s enforcement officers and demanding that the said policemen, already identified, be reprimanded.

The matter was dead on arrival, even long before the Commissioner of Police was redeployed. At this point, the Governor had started reconstruction work on the building with the roof, windows and other fittings dismantled. Scaffolds were erected around what is left of the structure.

Startled by the development, the owners of the property had on December 17, 2012, petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC) chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, detailing the sequence of events in respect of the case and the shoddy handling of same.

The petitioners also narrated how several requests they made to the court to collect the keys to the property were ignored by the authorities of the court. In the voluminous petition, the petitioners pointed accusing fingers at the Chief Judge Gummi, the trial judge, Justice Okeke, the Chief Registrar and the Director of Litigation.

Seemingly disturbed by the content of the petition, the Director of Litigation, acting on behalf of the Chief Registrar, quickly wrote to the lawyer to the petitioners, Amobi Nzelu Esq to come and collect the keys to the property.

The letter, dated January 18, 2013 stated, “we refer to your letters dated 10th May, 2012, 18th May, 2012 and 2nd August, 2012 respectively requesting for the release of keys of the recovered N0. 1, Fatai  Williams, Asokoro, Abuja. I am directed to inform you that the keys are ready for collection and that you may come for the same please. Thank you for your usual cooperation”, the letter was signed by Director Litigation, Uche Ezinne Bilikisu.

Meanwhile, written requests previously made by the property owners on the three separate dates as indicated in the Director Litigation’s letter, had been ignored by the authorities of the court.

In response to the belated letter by the court requesting the property owners to come forward for the keys, the petitioners’ lawyer, Amobi Nzelu Esq, had, through a letter dated January 17, 2013 expressed disappointment with the actions of certain top officials of the court in respect of the case.

Curiously, while the letter by Director Litigation was dated January 18, 2013, Nzelu’s response was dated January 17, 2013. Also, the date on the stamped acknowledgment copy of Nzelu’s letter received by the Chief Registrar’s office was dated January 17, 2013.

The question now is, “could the lawyer’s response have come a day before he received the letter he responded to? The lawyer’s three-page response to the court had read in part: “we are in receipt of your letter dated 18th day of January, 2013 in respect of the above subject matter. Ordinarily, we should have kept quiet and ignored the contents of the said letter but for posterity sake and to put the records straight, the need arose for this response.

“Apart from being economical with the story line of this case, salient facts, for reasons best known to the key players in the matter, are being deliberately suppressed. Because of the ungodly way the matter was handled and our determination not to expose the rot in the FCT Judiciary and putting up a fight to save our constituency, we were debriefed by our client. Not only were we debriefed, we lost our professional fees and another lawyer crested on our back to legal stardom. It is with pains that we have been rehearsed what transpired in this case to you and to inform you that we have been debriefed in the matter. There is nothing we can do in the matter. We hereby return the letter you sent to us back to you and advise you look elsewhere for a solution to this problem”.

Apprehensive of the series of unsettling events, one of the Directors of Nestello Group (owners of the building), Mr Mike Mbanefo, wrote to Justice Gumi on January 24, 2013. In that letter, Mbanefo had pointedly accused the Chief Judge of giving directives for the release of the keys to the building to the Governor and also giving orders for the release of the Governor’s personal effects earlier confiscated by the court. Mbanefo had equally gone ahead to demand the reconstruction of the building that had been defaced by the Governor to its original state.

The Chief Judge had replied through a letter dated January 30, 2013 through the Acting Chief Registrar of the Court, Alhaji Tanko M. Ahmed and denied complicity in the way the Governor regained possession of the building.

The letter by the Chief Judge read, “Your letter referenced above adequately represented the fact of the judgment delivered by Honourable Justice Jude Okeke in the case of Nestello Gateway Group vs. Alhaji Abdulaziz Abubakar Yari -Suit No. FCT/HC/CV/486/10.

“However, the letter seemed to suggest that after the initial execution of the court’s judgment, my lord the Chief Judge, Hon. justice L.H Gummi (OFR) directed that the judgment debtor i.e. Alhaji Abdulaziz Abubakar Yari be put back into possession and all items seized in the course of the execution be returned to him.

“Let me state that the process leading up to the execution of a court’s judgment is a judicial process likewise the process for settling aside an execution when it is carried out. In this case, no application was made to set aside the execution so, the Hon. Chief Judge could not have administratively ordered that the execution be set aside and in fact he did not issue any such order.

“Equally note that he was not in the position to order that the said Alhaji Abdulaziz Abubakar Yari be returned into possession as you insinuated in your letter. The office of the Chief Judge, you must note, is a highly exalted judicial office and Hon. Justice L.H. Gummi OFR who currently occupies that office will not encourage anyone to degrade the justice system by disobeying the court order in this case or in any other case for that matter.

“For the avoidance of doubt, your suggestion that the Chief Judge ordered that the Judgment Debtor be returned to the property and his items seized returned to him is completely strange as he has never issued such a directive. In view of this, please be advised that the Hon. Chief Judge or the High Court of the FCT is not in a position to bear any cost whatsoever in the restoration of your property to its original state”.

However, this letter came 20 days after the NJC had queried the Chief Judge over the unquestioned obstruction of justice and harassment of the court’s enforcement team by the Governor and his mobile policemen while the officers were on authorised eviction duty.

The petition by the owners of the property to the NJC was therefore forwarded to Justice Gummi by the CJN as an addendum to the initial query.

The memo to the Chief Judge, dated February 21, 2013 and personally signed by CJN Aloma Mutkhtar, Chief Judge Gummi was given two weeks to furnish the NJC with all the facts relating to the subject matter.

The memo, headed in bold capital letters, was entitled; Re: Petition in the case of Nestello Gateway Group Vs. Alhaji Abdulaziz Abubakar Yari -Suit No. FCT/HC/CV/486/ 10: AN ADENDUM.

The brief one-paragraphed memo reads: “Reference my Letter No. NJC/F.4HC.1/1/73 dated 10th of January, 2013 to you on the above subject matter. Attached hereto is further submission of the petitioner on the matter. I shall be glad to have your comments within two weeks from the date of receipt of this latter, please”.

The CJN had similarly queried the trial judge, June Okeke in like manner.

Her query to the trial judge, dated February 21, 2013 reads: “Reference my Letter No. NJC/F.4/HC.22/1/91 dated 10th January, 2013 to you on the above subject matter. Attached hereto is further submission of the petitioner on the matter. I shall be glad to have your comments within two weeks from the date of receipt of this letter, please”.

From the CJN’s query, some of the issues the Chief Judge Gummi and trial Judge Okeke are being asked for explanations include the circumstances under which the Governor took possession of the building after he had been evicted from the premises by a valid court of competent jurisdiction; the circumstances under which his personal belongings were returned to him after the items were seized and kept in the custody of the court; the circumstances under which eviction was executed on three occasions on the same property without any proof of validly obtained stay of execution by the Governor; the circumstances under which the Governor commenced renovation work on the building; the circumstances under which the building, which was in habitable condition while the trial lasted, became defaced and inhabitable as well as the circumstances under which several written requests made by owners of the property to the court for the collection of keys to the building were ignored several months after the execution of the first eviction order on May 8, 2012.

Interestingly, the architect of the whole issue, Obinna Kanu who sold the property to the governor without the consent of the owners and took the proceeds there from appears to be terrified by the turn of events. Kanu, who was said to have sneaked out of the country to the United States to avoid the heat, is now sweating profusely.

With local security agencies and the INTERPOL on his trail, Kanu the fugitive has approached the Governor offering to refund the N200 million he collected from him on the property.

Writing (from his hideout) through his lawyers, Umeh T. C. Umeh& co, Kanu is pleading with the Governor to allow him pay back in instalments.

The five-page letter addressed to Governor Yari, dated February 19, 2013 by Umeh T. C. Umeh Esq, stated inter alia: “Prince Obinna Kanu is prepared to refund the whole sum of N200, 000, 000. 00 (two hundred million naira) only if you will graciously allow him reasonable time to make the repayment.

“Due to his present predicament, he is pleading that you allow him a period of one and half years to repay the money in instalments. If however he is able to raise same within a shorter period, he will make the payment without delay. Our client is asking for this length of time so that he will not fail you. Your acceptance of the offer to have your money back will clear the way to enable him return to the country. Chief Ernest Elochukwu (CEO of Nestello Gateway Group, owners of the building) has agreed to drop all charges against him as well as harassment with security agents if he refunds your money to you. Please sir, accept the offer.

“There are hundreds of houses that you can still buy in Abuja which are better than this one which is riddled with problems. Finally, we are appealing to you to employ the milk of human kindness in you in looking into this matter. We know that you have been hurt and maligned by the entire episode but the truth is that it is not Obinna’s fault. He had a good intention in dealing with you.

“Sir, if our offer is acceptable to you, a written agreement embodying the terms of the refund of the money will be immediately executed between you and Prince Obinna Kanu and his company, Kobinok and Associates Limited. While wishing God’s guidance and protection in your efforts to make Zamfara State better than you met it, we expect to hear from you soonest”, the letter concluded.

Meanwhile, Saturday Champion could not establish at the time of filing this report if the Zamfara Governor has agreed to the terms. However, the question as to whose responsibility it is to fix the skeleton of the building back to its original shape may be addressed after the conclusion of on-going investigation by the NJC.

The entire situation however seem to have raised questions on the sacredness of judicial declarations in Nigeria. It has once more raised the question on the integrity of our public office holders and in particular, the judicial system which ought to be the last hope of the common man.

Source: Champion




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