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updated 10:20 AM UTC, Dec 13, 2023

Nigeria: Intimidation of the Bar by the Bench – Part One

‘Intimidation of the Bar by the Bench – Part One: Prognosis Of Judgment In Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CD/578/2023 Delivered 06/06/2023’ By Oluwafemi Ibiayo, Esq.

With due respect, I completely disagree with His Lordship Hon. Justice Inyang Ekwo’s decision in the above captioned suit and the personal vindictive aspersions cast on Counsel, simply for exercising his fundamental freedoms of speech and professional opinion on proffering an assessment of issues whilst granting an interview to journalists.

I find it extremely disturbing that a dangerous trend of “demonising” lawyers in the course or discharge of their constitutional duties and in furtherance of their oaths of office as Ministers in the temple of Justice, is fast being set in this Country and becoming the norm.

A sad end it must be to the just, free and unbiased administration of Justice, if lawyers are to become “open prey” to judicial vindictiveness aimed at intimidating and paralysing lawyers from the discharge of their sacred professional discretion to accept a brief/instruction based on their professional and convictional assessment and call as to the demands for justice of such brief/instruction.

Ibi Jus, Ibi Remidium (Where there’s a right, there is a remedy), remains for all time the hallmark foundational justification for our justice administration systems in Nigeria, and the moment citizens are second-guessed in their decision to ventilate their grievances before the Courts, or are subject to sanction for exercising such rights, then a call to anarchy and self-help is sounded!

I completely disagree that the citizens of Abuja, do not have a justiciable cause and right to ventilate a grievance against the just concluded swearing-in of an illegitimate President, in clear violation of the Constitution. That the adjectival process by which those grievances were ventilated may (rightly or wrongly) have been defective owing to inclusion of heads of claim which robbed the Court of adjudicatory jurisdiction, does not justify, the vindictive imposition of sanctions on Counsel, simply for doing his job.

Afterall, the action was not fought on the footing that any of the Abuja residents were challenging the outcome of the elections qua (as) Candidates of any Political Party. The main thrust of the action had to do with an interpretation of the Constitution as to whether the swearing-in of Ashiwaju Bola Tinubu as President was Constitutionally permissible given the dictates of the Constitution! I fail to see how on earth such question of constitutional interpretation cannot be put before a Court of law for determination, notwithstanding the pendency of proceedings before the PEPT. The Electoral Act, itself a creation of the Constitution, did not and cannot bar any citizen from seeking an interpretation of his/her own Constitution. Nor can.it be considered right for administrative orders to be issued to all Federal Courts not to entertain any questions from the public concerning Ashiwaju’s swearing-in, which is a process dictated by the Constitution itself!

It is trite, that all cases filed and fought in Court are either won or lost, and the history of our adjectival administration of justice in Nigeria have shown over the decades, that the outcomes of cases/suits often boil down to legal technicalities, statutory limitations that work human hardships, professional errors in the presentation of cases or interpretation of the law, all of which facts, often underscore the reality that the law, most often than not, can be an ASS and that it’s practice, is not an exact science! This is true, even with regards the decisions of Judges themselves which are also subject to appellate reversal for being fallible, and without the consequence of an ensuing demonization, by reason of insulation of judicial immunity!

If judges in the lawful discharge of their duties are insulated even with regards downright incompetent and unreasonable decisions, why should lawyers fare worse, when in good faith, they humanly discharge their duties!

The obviously unjust and punitive ancillary orders issued by Justice Inyang Ekwo even to the extent of ordering the transfer of the case file to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee and subjecting the lawful exercise of the constitutional rights of appeal of both the litigants in Abuja and their Counsel to the payment of a vindictive cost of N20 Million Naira, is respectfully, uncalled for, amounts to an abuse of judicial powers, an attempted arm-stringging of the Litigants and their Counsel, and thus is NULL and VOID for lack of jurisdiction!

Such orders were violative of the Constitutional rights of the Litigants and their Counsel and thus subject to being set aside!

The day must never arise in this Nation, when citizens will be judicially intimidated and sanctioned for exercising their fundamental constitutional rights!

I accordingly call on all members of the Nigerian Bar, the NBA and all well meaning Nigerians to express their reservation and disapproval to this judgment, which has gone beyond the rubicon to become AD-HOMINEM!

At this solemn moment, I STAND with my colleague Barrister Chucks Nwachukwu. I call upon him to do the needful and exercise his constitutional rights without fear or favour and in absolute resolve for justice and the defense of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The Orders as to costs should immediately be apoealed and stayed pending determination of an appropriately precipitated appeal against the decision!

No order of Court can bar the the exercise of the rights of appeal of any citizen in this Nation! That remains the Law!

Every legal battle must be imbued by not just the dictates of the law, but more importantly, by conviction of the Law!

Oluwafemi Ibiayo, Esq. ACIArb.(UK), MSCIArb. FCIA, FIMC, ACIS

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