Nigeria News

NIGERIA: For Obdurate Appellants, Lessons from the S’Court

The issue on whether or not the Supreme Court could reverse itself was again demonstrated last week with the court sending an even stronger signal. Davidson Iriekpen writes
 
The Supreme Court again made it clear last week that no amount of antics or tricks by counsel and their clients will make it revisit a case it had earlier decided. The court demonstrated this when it ruled on an application filed by Dr. Dickson Osuala, the counsel to the governorship candidate of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) in Delta State, Chief Great Ogboru, against the election of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Indeed, it sent a very strong signal to lawyers that it would no longer tolerate abuse of court processes.
 
The matter, which had twice been dismissed by the court, was re-filed by Osuala, who premised his action ‎on Section 285 (7) of the Constitution which he claimed was fraudulently inserted into the constitution by the National Assembly. He argued further that since due process was not followed by the National Assembly in enacting section 285 (7) into law, it was wrong for the apex court to have relied on it to dismiss his client’s case last year.
 
Although the court drew his attention to the fact that it was not its business to amend the constitution, it is that of the National Assembly and also advised the counsel to go to the National Assembly or the Federal High Court to challenge the section; Osuala however rejected the advice and argued that nobody should be allowed to benefit from a defective law.
 
Justice Walter Onoghene who presided over the matter, descended on Osuala and advised him not to ever come to the apex court with any application in respect of the case. He blamed the counsel for not properly guiding his client and embarking on a clear case of gross abuse of the court‎ process. The judge told counsel to advise his client to take his case to heaven if he was not satisfied with the court's ruling.
 
The panel of justices further noted that Ogboru through his counsel wanted to resurrect a dead and buried horse, and warned that this would be the last time such a case should be brought before the court. They unanimously ruled that the‎ case amounted to an affront on the nation's judiciary as well as an abuse of the court process.
 
Boiling with anger, and to serve as deterrent, the court dismissed the suit and consequently fined Osuala the sum of N8million, the highest fine ever witnessed in the history of the court.
 
Many analysts believed that if Osuala had learnt from history, he would have known that the journey he was embarking on was a wild goose chase. Many of his colleagues, some older than him on the bar, who had tried it before did not only fail but ended up being castigated and chastised by the court.
 
One of such instances was when the former governor of Rivers State, Sir Celestine Omehia, filed an application before the court to seek to review its judgment delivered on October 25, 2007 between him and the incumbent governor, Rotimi Amaechi. The former governor had hired James Esike, to pursue the case on his behalf.
 
When the application came up for hearing, it was not without melodrama. Esike argued that the judgment delivered on October 25, 2007 was a nullity on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction and competence to make the order not sought for, saying that the court was wrong. For the lawyer’s effrontery in asking the court to revisit its judgment, the entire justice on the panel descended on him.
 
First to fire the salvo was Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, who later became the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). Katsina-Alu, who was so furious and could not comprehend the guts of Esike not only instantly dismissed the suit, but humiliated him.
 
He thundered: “In my view, your action here is a serious professional misconduct. We have given our decision two years ago and you are here asking us to review it. Even if we stay here till December, you will get nothing. At best, you can attract punitive damage. Whether right or wrong, that judgment stands.
 
“You are threading a dangerous ground. We have no right to sit on appeal over our decision. Our judgment is not a nullity and you can go on and appeal to God. One thing I know is that God is not your client. If you persist trying that path, you won’t go home today. You don’t talk as if you are talking to some juniors in your chambers. You accused the Supreme Court of making law.
 
"This application is clearly misguided and ill-advised. But it affords us the opportunity to warn counsel to desist from bringing frivolous application before us. If a court has the jurisdiction to hear a case, it follows that it has the jurisdiction to be wrong or right in its judgment. This application is clearly an abuse of court process and it is accordingly dismissed."
 
On his part, Justice George Oguntade, now retired, took liberty to admonish lawyers to stop bringing frivolous applications to the Supreme Court. He stated that it was wrong for the litigants to want to turn the court to “a musical chair” that could be swerved anyhow, asking whether the applicant wanted the court to start replacing the governor with every application asking for it.
 
In his words: “We are not sitting here as individuals; we are sitting as the final court of Nigeria. We don’t have any friend among you. We would leave here and retire to our villages but the Supreme Court and the law live forever. What we did was the best way we can safeguard our democracy."
 
For Justice Walter Onnoghen, the only forum open to Omehia was with God. “Even if we are wrong, our decision is final. You may appeal to God. You brought this application in contempt of court. You can go and appeal to God."
 
Before the Omehia’s application, former Special Assistant to former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Domestic Affairs, Mr. Andy Uba had twice dared the apex court to reverse its judgment.
 
On the first occasion, Uba filed his application alongside INEC and the governorship candidate of the Nigeria Advanced Party (NAP) in 2007, Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, seeking to set aside its earlier judgment delivered on June 14, 2007 which declared Mr. Peter Obi as the legal occupant of the Anambra State Government House.
 
Reasoning that it was an effrontery to ask it to reverse itself in a case it had determined, the court descended heavily on the plaintiffs with venom. In a unanimous decision, it did not only dismiss the applications filed by the trio, the panel of justices presided over by Justice Iyorgher Katsina-Alu, concluded that hearing the applications would amount to chasing shadows or "embarking on a wild goose chase."
 
While the court spared Uba, it however, lambasted Okonkwo who in the suit, alleged that Obi had bribed him with the sum of N10million to compromise himself at the Court of Appeal. It described Okonkwo as a blackmailer who goes about extorting money from politicians and declared that he was "not fit to even live in the jungle."
 
Kastina-Alu had this to say to him:  This court has given its final judgment on this matter. The jurisdiction to reopen it is on a narrow compass. The argument that we should hear the matter on its merit is an invitation for us to embark on a wild goose chase. It is clear that the court cannot invoke its jurisdiction, I, therefore, strike out all the applications with no order as to cost." 
 
Before then, Oguntade had sought a clarification from Okonkwo on the purpose of N10million bribe he allegedly received from Obi. He said he was paid the said sum to withdraw his preliminary objections to Obi's appeal and not to withdraw the main appeal. 
 
At this juncture, Oguntade, who could not contain his anger said: "We want to maintain the highest standards of justice. The sum total of your position is that you accepted money to withdraw from the case but later turned around to blackmail the governor and say that you have been compromised and asking the court to set aside the judgment. I have a feeling that you are one of those exploiting politicians and making things difficult for them to rule this country." 
 
But Okonkwo who still could not read the body language of the Justices, tried to interject. At this juncture, Oguntade shouted: "Shut up and listen. You are a common crook, I think very little of you. I don't know what my colleagues think of you, but you would be very lucky if you can go home from here today. I wonder where you derived the courage to come before us and ask us to set aside our judgment after you took bribe to compromise yourself." 
 
Whereas Kastina-Alu preferred not to hit hard on Okonkwo, Justice Pius Olayiwola Aderemi was not that charitable. Hear him: "You (Okonkwo) are not fit for a decent society but the jungle among animals." 
 
Justice Tanko Mohammad, who was also visibly angry, said this of Okonkwo: "If I were alone, I will jail you; you are a common crook.”
The second time Uba attempted to push his luck again at the apex court it was his lawyer and then President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. J.B Daudu (SAN), that received the bashing. In a unanimous verdict, the seven-man panel not only dismissed the suit, but described it as a "thorough abuse of the judicial process."
 
Before preparing the judgment, the then CJN, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, who presided over the case fumed at the perceived effrontery of Uba and Daudu in bringing the application before the court, which, according to him, was a mere attempt to rubbish the integrity of the judiciary in order to fulfil his gubernatorial ambition.
 
"This court held in its earlier judgment that the notice of appeal filed by Peter Obi at the Court of Appeal was valid. Yet, after our judgment, the applicant went straight back to the trial court to ask it to void the same notice of appeal which this court (Supreme Court) had declared valid; when he failed, he went back to the Court of Appeal and failed and has returned to us," Kutigi observed.
Now referring to Daudu, Justice Kutigi lamented at a situation where very senior members of the legal profession would allow themselves to be used as tools in the hands of politicians.
 
"What kind of country is this where Senior Advocates of Nigeria are used to mess up the judiciary? We will not allow this kind of practice. This is wrong. The appellant has been shuttling from one court to another on a matter that the Supreme Court had already delivered judgment. If the Supreme Court makes a mistake, there are procedures of correcting the mistakes; not this way, and we will not allow it.”

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