By Sylvester Udemezue
These are not the best of times for Nigeria’s Law Profession! A story for another piece. Meanwhile, my Lord, Hon. Justice Maurice Eneji, Rtd was reported to have written thus on platform that goes by the name, CONFEDERATION OF BEKWARRA LAWYERS:
“But we must realise that the law empowers the CJ to assign cases to all other Judges within her state. Thus, any application for transfer of a case is subject to the CJ’S discretion. The CJ can decide to transfer or not to transfer. He/She cannot be forced to do so, else it will amount to disarming the judicial power of the court.Now, if the CJ refuses to transfer, then the case must go on before the CJ or any court it was pending the end of hearing, if the case goes against the applicant, then the applicant has right to appeal. It is wrong for anyone to wrestle with an authority such as a court to exercise discretion in favour of any one particular person(s) or party/parties to a case. That will amount to commanding the Court! May that day never come.
Respected Hon Justice Maurice Eneji (RTD), sir, with the greatest respect to you, I think you’ve turned upsidedown all of law, equity, justice, reason and common.
1️⃣. You say the CJ cannot be forced to transfer the case. You missed it, sir. Such doesn’t arise and doesn’t apply in the present case. Under professional Legal Ethics, there appear to be FOUR options available to any party who thinks he has a proper cause for complaint against a judicial officer:
(I). Send a Petition to the CJ of the Court, for transfer of the case to another judge; or
(II). File a formal Application for Recusal — this is by Motion on Notice, Affidavit and Written Address; or
(III). Wait and make such a complaint a ground of appeal (see Sunday Okodua v. State); or
(IV). In extreme cases, report to NJC for disciplinary action.
Now, dear Hon Justice Eneji, RTD, from available reports, it appears that the option relevant to the Inibehe Effiong scenario is point Number (II), not point number (I) as you’ve erroneously suggested. As reported, and no one has refuted this, Inibehe Effiong as a counsel in the case, had filed a formal application praying the Hon CJ to recuse himself from the case. Whether the CJ likes it or not, the CJ has/had an obligation to hear and determine the application, one way or another. It’s on record that when INEBEHE EFFIONG drew the attention of the judge to the Application for Recusal, instead of taking the application (which was the proper thing to do in the circumstances), at least to either dismiss or grant it, the judge had rather waved it aside, directed that the application be kept one side while trial should proceed. Inibehe complied. Thus, the lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, was ready to move the application but the the judge refused to take the application.
With due respect to the CJ, this is a very wrong procedure, perhaps a further testimony to his alleged personal interest or bias in the case.
Dear Hon Justice Eneji RTd, sir, with due respect, your argument is premature; the judge had a duty to hear the application for Recusal, even if the judge planned to dismiss it. In exercising this all-important duty, the judge who happens to be the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, failed woefully, leading to so many implications, imputaions, inferences and then raising so many questions, two of which are:
(A). Did the Hon CJ of Akwa Ibom State forget His Professional Duties As A Presiding Judge? A presiding judge should always appreciate that he is an umpire and as such should never enter into the arena of conflict – so that he does not have a befogged vision of the case. The presiding judge must also bear in mind the need to not be a “Hippy Harliet”. See Uso v. The Police (1972) 11 S.C. 37; Okoruwa v. The State  ANLR 262 See also Onuoha v. The State (1989) 2 N.W.L.R (Pt. 101) 23; Ayub-Khan v. The State (1991) 2 N.W.L.R (pt172). 127 .
(B). What then becomes of Nemo Judex In Causa Sua?
“…the court looks at the impression which would be given to other people. Even if the the judge was as impartial as could be, nevertheless if right-minded persons would think that, in the circumstances, there was a real likelihood of bias on the part of the judge/adjudicator/arbiter, then he should not sit. and if he does sit, his decision cannot stand. It is irrelevant whether he was in fact biased, because justice is rooted in public confidence, and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking that the judge was biased”._See: “The Suspension Of NBA General Secretary By The National Executive Committee: Corollary Legal Issues”_ By Sylvester Udemezue (TheNigeriaLawyer: 15 August 2022).
2️⃣. Hon Justice Eneji RTD’s Argument Over the Akwa Ibom State CJ’S Non Release of Record of Proceedings In Inibehe Effiong’s Case: Hear Justice Eneji RTD:
“Concerning the delay in providing records of proceedings, it must be borne in mind that:1. Soon after the unpleasant episode, the court proceeded on vacation. So his Lordship will not be expected to stay back to vet and issue the records of proceedings. To do so during vacation will clearly be illegal!! It is only a Vacation Judge that has the power to treat Only Urgent applications during vacation!! No other person can! Therefore, if counsel had been diligent, they would have approached the Vacation Judge to reach out to the Hon CJ to speed up issuance of the requested record of proceedings, and even better still, approach the vacation court for bail of the convict/contemnor pending appeal.
My Lord, sir, with due respect, you missed it. In a Commentary titled, “It Is A Violation of Litigants’ Fundamental Right for A Court to Make Litigants Pay to Obtain A Copy of the Court’s Judgment” (see: BarristerNG: 6 August 2021), I wrote, ‘Section 294(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, provides that “Every court established under this Constitution shall deliver its decision in writing not later than ninety days after the conclusion of evidence and final addresses and furnish all parties to the cause or matter determined with duly authenticated copies of the decision within seven days of the delivery thereof”. Similarly, section 36 (7) of the same Constitution requires that “… the accused person or any persons authorised by him in that behalf shall be entitled to obtain copies of the judgement in the case within seven days of the conclusion of the case”. It is submitted that the court has a duty to make a copy of the judgement available to the parties free of charge either in the open court on the date of judgment or through the bailiffs within 7 days of the judgment, or through email or other virtual platforms (the last is most preferable)’.
Continuing, I said, “This being the case, the court has a duty to make available to the parties, duly authenticated copies of the judgment. This must be done free of any charge and within the time stipulated by law, or where no time is stated, within a reasonable time. Time is of the essence here. Failure to do this is a gross breach of the fundamental rights of the affected parties and a violation of due process, rule of law and the interest of justice….By the way, why not the court sends a copy of the judgment through the court’s official email to (all the litigants and) the lawyers in the case? Why not we expect to see a copy of every judgment of court posted on the court’s website within within 24 hours or not later than Seven days from the date of the judgement? Why not? Are these not where the world is at present? Why are we left behind in everything? Is it that we don’t have funds to get things done right or that we don’t have the foresight to see that only the right things should be done, or that “fantastic” corruption has taken away the money we need to have things done right? Where in a civilized, developed 21st-century-compliant country, are parties still queuing up in the court’s registry to apply for, pay through the nose (typical of Nigeria) to obtain a copy of judgments of court in their own case? Should we not at least upgrade– even if it’s one step forward? What does it take the court to send a copy of its own judgement to litigants?’
My Humble Opinion:
The delay by the CJ of Akwa Ibom State (who happens to be the presiding judge in this case) in releasing the record of proceedings in the Inibehe Effiong scenario is a deliberate ploy to frustrate Inibehe Effiong’s lawyers’ efforts to get justice. It’s a violation of Inibehe Effiong’s fundamental rights. It’s a violation of the CJ’S oath of office and the Code of conduct for judicial officers. Further, it’s a gross breach of the CJ’S duty of impartiality as an adjudicator. Such is also irregular and amounts to a gross deceleration of the Constitution. Section 36(1) of the Nigerian Constitution provides that “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality”. while section 36(6)(b) requires that “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to -be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence”.
With due respect, as I suggested, Hon Justice Eneji RTD, is muddling issues up, instead of facing relevant issues and calling a spade by its name! I see the argument as a poor excuse for a gross desecration of law, justice, ethics and procedure by a judicial officer from whom a high standard of professional discipline was expected. Justice Eneji’s may well be described as a stalking-Horse, looking more as one advanced to becloud the mode relevant and serious questions bothering on these gross violations of law, justice and procedure.
▪️To be continued!
Sylvester Udemezue (Udems)