Enugu judiciary in awkward dance

UMEZULIKE

UMEZULIKE

•Politics Fuel Allegations Of Forgery, Misconduct
The last time Enugu judiciary boiled was about 11 years ago. It followed an order by one of her judges, Justice Stanley Nnaji, on the Inspector general of Police to remove the then Anambra State governor, Dr. Chris Ngige, from office. The order, which jolted the nation, was in a case brought by the then godfather of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State, Chief Chris Uba, over allegation that Ngige had reneged on a pre-election agreement to quit office.

It was the climax of many months of struggle over the political soul of Anambra State, which Ngige, allegedly sponsored by Uba, had won during the 2003 general election.

While the matter raged, and with the insistence of Ngige to continue to occupy the office, Uba had approached the Enugu High Court with the alleged agreement they signed and got Nnaji’s order against him. And acting on the order, Ngige was forcefully ejected from office.

Many years after the incident, the Enugu judiciary seems set to boil again. This time, however, the unfolding battle is between the State Chief Judge, Justice Innocent Umezulike, and a prominent lawyer, Mr. Peter Eze. Eze, who operates a chamber in Enugu, and is one of the lawyers attached to the Abuja chambers of the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu.

Investigations by The Guardian showed that both men are locked in bitter dispute, with Eze refusing to attend court sessions any longer in Enugu division, since last year. Sources said he ran to Abuja.

The crux of the matter was series of petitions by him (Eze) to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, in which he accused Umezulike of misconduct and forgery.

One of the petitions dated November 25, 2015, directed to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, complained of forgery and misconduct against the Enugu Chief Judge and the Director of Litigation at the state High Court, Vincent Aneke. In it, Eze had alleged: “On June 25, 1985, Justice P. K. Nwokedi, the Chief Judge of Anambra State (who later became a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria) delivered a judgment in Suit No. E/170/76: Nnaji & Ors. V. Nwugwu Ors. The judgment awarded the plaintiffs, the Umunneshi Family of Umunaji Ngene, Amechi Uwani, title to a parcel of land known as and called “Agbirigba Umu-Nensi.”

“Surprisingly, sometime in 2009, Aneke and the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Umezulike, forged a judgment order in the said suit, in which Justice Umezulike and Aneke claimed that Justice Umezulike heard the said suit in 1985 and delivered judgment in the suit. No mention is made in the said judgment order that the suit was heard by Hon. Justice P. K. Nwokedi. The said judgment order was also purportedly signed by Mr. Vin Aneke, Director, Litigation and Courts Division, High Court, Enugu State, on the same date.

“It will interest you to note that Justice Umezulike was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1980 and was only elevated to the Bench in 1993 when he was appointed a judge of the High Court of Enugu State. At the time he was said to have signed the said judgment order in 2009, Justice Umezulike knew that he was not the judge who heard the case, and that he was not a High Court Judge in 1985, and certainly was never a High Court Judge in Anambra State. Similarly, Aneke was only called to the Nigerian Bar in 2002, and was not a lawyer in 1985. He was also not the Director Litigation and Courts Division in the High Court of Anambra State in 1985.”

Mr. Eze had followed up with another petition to the National Judicial Council (NJC), dated February 19, 2016 in which he leveled an allegation of misconduct against the Chief Judge. He had stated that Umezulike refused to comply with a directive of the NJC to transfer some cases from his court to another Judge after he was accused of bias in handling of the matters. He had alleged three cases involving a new generation bank were pending before Justice Umezulike, of which he said judicial propriety required they be transferred to another court.

Initially, lawyers in the state had treated news of the petitions with caution until they became public knowledge, following sustained media report that the NJC and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation had queried the Enugu Chief Judge on the development.

In fact, while the Minister in his letter Ref No: HAGF/ENUGU/2000/1 and dated February 4, 2016, urged the NJC to investigate Umezulike, it also went further to ask the Inspector General of Police to investigate the Chief Judge and Aneke, the Director of Litigation over the allegation that they both altered a court judgment and order in suit No. E/170/76 dated June 25, 1985.

Apparently perturbed that the integrity of the Enugu judicial division was on trial once more, as well as his person and office, Justice Umezulike had last week decided to react on the matter.

In a short written speech he delivered at a dinner organised for members of the eastern bar forum at the auditorium of the Enugu High Court, he said: “Recently, one Mr. Peter Eze lodged petitions against me to the Attorney General of the federation, the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the ICPC. Not satisfied with the investigations being made by these credible agencies of government, he carried his campaign of falsities and calumny to the social media and Internet.

Since the matter has become a public one, I urge that those responsible would thoroughly investigate it and prosecute where possible. It will go a long way in restoring our integrity as lawyers and show that the profession is averse to corruption and misconduct

“He lied so much against me that I forged the judgment of Justice P.K Nwokedi (as Chief Judge of old Anambra State) delivered in 1985 when I was not even a judge or elevated to the Bench. As members of the highly revered and noble profession to which all of us belong, I owe you an explanation. There was no forgery and it is wicked and impossible to associate me with anything approximating forgery.”

He continued: “The truth of the matter is that Justice P.K Nwokedi as Chief Judge of Old Anambra State with headquarters in Enugu delivered judgment in suit No/E/170/76 On 25th June, 1985. Thereafter, the case progressed through the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court, which delivered final judgment in the case in favour of the plaintiffs.

Eze

Eze

“By the time the Supreme Court finally decided the appeal, Justice P.K Nwokedi had ceased to be the Chief Judge of old Anambra State; he had been elevated to the Supreme Court from the High Court of Old Anambra State. And by the time the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal in January 1997, Justice Nwokedi had retired from the Supreme Court and was no longer a judicial officer. The case file was remitted back to the high court registry Enugu in February 2009.

“It was at that time that the successful party at the Supreme Court applied to my office for a warrant of execution and judgment order; and since Justice Nwokedi could not be recalled from retirement to sign the warrant of execution, and since I was the Chief Judge, and being satisfied that the Supreme court had ended the matter, I signed the warrant of execution.”

Investigations by The Guardian revealed that a similar petition had emanated from the lawyer earlier last year to then headship of the NJC, and which was resolved in favour of the Chief Judge.

Attempting to situate the cause of the renewed attacks and petitions to the gathering, the Chief Judge said: “It is because I have ordered a bench warrant against Mr. Peter Eze to be brought to my court to explain the allegations against him over the forgery of two wills or Codicils of Arc A.P.C Iloabachie (deceased) in suit No. E/159m/14 (Barrister Mrs. Adiba C. Ezeuko & Ors vs Probate Registrar High Court & three others.) Since then, he has been fighting to create the impression that he is being called upon to explain his role in the forgery of those wills because he is at war with the Chief Judge of Enugu State.”

It was learnt that the bench warrant was issued on March 3, 2015 and reinforced on September 22, last year, after a motion on notice dated April 2, 2015 by Eze for an order setting it aside failed.

Umezulike insisted that it was Eze, who should stand trial for alleged forgery, as according to him, “he makes a living from forgery of wills and conveyances and he thinks I am blocking his avenue of making a living. He was also recently alleged to have forged the signature of Chief R.O Nkwocha and dubiously conveyed Nkwocha’s property at 44 Imoke Street, GRA, Enugu, to himself. Because there is an indication of high profile criminality, the court has ordered the Commissioner of Police to investigate the criminality involved in the transactions.”
Alignments And Politics Of The Petitions

MEANWHILE, various interests are beginning to show up at the state judiciary over the development. While some have condemned the attitude of the lawyer (Eze) at not letting a sleeping dog lie, others accused him of being used by a highly placed politician in the state to undermine the judiciary. Many others, however, commended him for the courage and insistence in “exposing the rot that has militated against the development of the justice system in the state.”

Some lawyers (Integrity Group) accused him (Eze), saying he has allowed himself to be used by a top politician in the state to ventilate his anger on the Chief Judge over his (Judge) refusal to sanction a purported list of PDP delegates during the last general elections.

They said in a statement by one John Ugwu: “Though the politician benefitted from the crisis that erupted over the control of the PDP structure in the state, he may not have forgiven the Chief Judge, who issued the order that ward delegate’s election did not hold in the state against the prompting of the politician.” They warned him to respond to the allegations against him, rather “than running from pillar to post with frivolous petitions.”

Umezulike was drawn into the battle when the case of the election of delegates was brought before him. The delegates who were to emerge were those that elected the National Assembly and governorship candidates who were for the primary of the party. The tension over the development did not allow the delegates’ election to hold on the scheduled date, as materials did not leave the Wuse police station in Abuja. But one of the leaders of the factions of the party had allegedly conducted the ward delegate’s election at his senatorial zone, a night to the scheduled date and wanted the Enugu High Court to authenticate his claims when a suit was filed against it by some stakeholders.

Umezulike had relied on the statements of the Divisional Police Officer in Wuse, where the electoral materials were kept, as well as the testimonies of other stakeholders to rule that there was no ward delegates’ election in the state, among others.

But many others believed that the Chief Judge has a case to answer, as according to them, “this is not the first time his integrity is being questioned.” They also accused him of using a book he launched in 2014 to compromise on cases involving certain politicians.

But this was quickly dismissed by those sympathetic to the Chief Judge who said the “book was not for money making but was a contribution to improve the study of law,” adding, “it got the approval of the Chief Justice of the Federation before it was presented to the public.”

A lawyer in the state, Jude Onah, said the development is worrisome, stressing, “lawyers accusing each other of forgery and misconduct is a serious dent on the image and integrity of the judiciary. It means that the common man is in trouble; it means something is wrong with the profession.”

He added quickly, however, “since the matter has become a public one, I urge that those responsible would thoroughly investigate it and prosecute where possible. It will go a long way in restoring our integrity as lawyers and show that the profession is averse to corruption and misconduct.”



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