The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, has asked justices of the Court of Appeal to contribute positively to the judicial system by speedily concluding cases before them at the level of the Appeal Court.
Malami made the appeal on Monday at the special session to mark the 2021 Legal Year of the Court of Appeal.
He also reminded the justices that a lot is expected of them in the delivery of credible judgement that will foster and promote public confidence in all rulings that emanate from the courts.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad on Monday swore in 18 judges to the Court of Appeal.
Addressing the newly-sworn judges, Justice Tanko asked the judges to conduct their affairs within the ambit of the law and the oath of office administered on them.
He reminded them that all eyes were on them and that they should avoid temptations, as their integrity was key.
According to the CJN, there is nothing that is done in secret that will not see the light of day.
He said the judges must give a good conduct of themselves, be fair and just, to justify their elevation to the position of Court of Appeal judges
“Many high profile cases will definitely come to you on appeal,” the Chief Judge said. “They may likely come in company of some juicy, irresistible temptations, but I am making it bold and clear that you must flee from such disguised danger.
“Your reputation and integrity must match and count enormously in your rise to honour and fame in life.
“Keep your head above the murky waters of corruption, so that you can conveniently be counted among the very best in the Nigerian judiciary.”
The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos has dismissed an appeal filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to challenging the order directing it to unfreeze the accounts of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozhekome.
The appellate court in a unanimous judgement delivered by Justice Chidi Nwaoma Uwa held that the appeal lacks merit.
Justice Tunde Awotoye and James Abundaga are the two other members of the panel.
At the instance of the EFCC on April 3rd 2017, Justice Abdulaziz Anka of the Federal High Court, Lagos lifted a restraining order he earlier placed on the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) account of Ozekhome.
The EFCC had obtained the interim ex parte order of forfeiture to freeze the money for 120 days, arguing that the sum of N75 million transferred to the account was proceed of unlawful activity, because it was paid to Ozekhome by the then sitting Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, whom it said it was investigating.
Ozekhome on his part had argued that the action of the EFCC was unconstitutional, had no legal justification and was a gross violation of sections 36, 37 and 41 of the 1999 Constitution.
He filed a motion before the Federal High Court in Lagos, urging it to set aside its earlier order freezing his chambers’ account. He alleged misrepresentation, non-disclosure, suppression of material facts and non-compliance with the rules of the lower court and Judicial authorities regulating the grant of ex parte applications by the Appellant.
Justice Anka, after hearing arguments from Ozekhome and Mr Rotimi Oyedepo for the EFCC, vacated the ex parte order and unfreeze his account with Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB).
Apparently dissatisfied with the ruling, the EFCC filed an appeal before the Court of Appeal alleging miscarriage of justice by the lower court.
The anti-graft agency had argued that while Ozekhome is entitled to his professional fees, he is not entitled to receive such from funds suspected to be proceeds of crime.
In dismissing the appeal, the appellate court held that the EFCC had wrongfully obtained the ex parte order to freeze the account as the lower court lacked the jurisdiction to grant same and as the defendant could not have committed any infraction to warrant his account being blocked and frozen.
The upper court further held that there was contradictory evidence shown in invoices and receipts issued by Ozekhome to Fayose and the said sum represented part payment of his professional fees in the handling of various cases for Fayose across the country.
On whether a legal practitioner is legally obliged to begin to ask a client for the very source of his money from which the client desired to pay a lawyer, the court said there was no such requirement known to law.
“A Legal Practitioner is entitled to his fees for professional services and such fees cannot be rightly labelled as proceeds of crime.
“It is not a requirement of the law that a legal Practitioner would go into inquiry before receiving his fees from his client, to find out the source of the fund from which he would be paid.”
N75m Professional Fees
Sometime in 2016, the EFCC had, through Justice Ibrahim Idris, then of the Federal High Court, Lagos, frozen Governor Fayose’s accounts, accusing him of allegedly keeping proceeds of unlawful activity.
Fayose immediately engaged Ozekhome’s legal services and he approached the Federal High Court, Ado Ekiti, presided over by Justice Taiwo Taiwo, and challenged the ex parte freezing order granted by Justice Idris.
In his judgement, Justice Taiwo found that the freezing order had been improperly granted without jurisdiction in the first place, and upon suppression of material facts.
After this judgement, Fayose went to his bank and withdrew the sum of N5million from his account for himself, while transferring N75 million to Ozekhome, as part payment of his professional fees.
The EFCC immediately appealed this judgement, and then went ahead to freeze Ozekhome’s account. It contended that the N75 million paid to his chambers by Fayose as professional fees for legal services rendered was a proceed of unlawful activity.
“People like you can’t just be in the National Assembly…” one of the security officers told the lawyers.
The NBA President had earlier on Friday directed its branch chairmen nationwide to lead “visits” to government houses in their states over the 36 governors’ alleged unwillingness to implement judiciary’s financial autonomy.
A statement by the president of the association, Olumide Akpata, directed the branch chairmen to lead the “visits”, which are more like peaceful protests, on Monday, and on all other subsequent Mondays until the demand for the judiciary’s financial autonomy is met.
It urged the branch leaders “to effectively mobilise their members” for the “visit to the governors at the state government houses” to press home the demand.
JUSUN since April 6, 2021, left the courts in Nigeria under lock and key because of the non-implementation of financial autonomy for the judiciary as the third arm of government.
They commenced a nationwide strike today, April 19, 2021.
See below, photos of the NBA members at the NASS gate …
There are over 4,630 appeals pending at the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division.
The court also has 6,207 Motions pending as of December 1, 2020.
The President of the Court, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem gave these statistics in her remarks, during the opening day of the Court of Appeal’s first Working Retreat and Annual Conference of the Justices of the Court of Appeal, holding between December 7-10, with the Theme: Court of Appeal: Challenges &The Way Forward.
The retreat will feature special court sittings by all 70 Justices of the Court of Appeal, drawn from all the Divisions of the Court.
“The purpose is to send out a public message that this Court will no longer be a dumping ground for those who seek to hamper justice delivery in Nigeria. This week, it is also hoped that these special sittings will promote the collegiate spirit, which the Court is renowned for. Thirdly, our actions this week will afford us all a chance to discuss various aspects of our work, health, and wellbeing”, the President said.
Justice Dongban-Mensem also said that “On assumption of office, I discovered that majority of these Appeals, had either been abandoned or purposely left to linger endlessly by mischievous and flippant actors in the litigation process. It is also regrettable to note that a good number of these appeals were filed with the aim of stalling the judicial process. ‘This situation must certainly not be allowed to continue. We have come out to demonstrate our abhorrence by taking the bull by the horn”
“The Working Retreat consists of special court sessions involving 23 Special Appellate Panels. Due to time and space constraints, the Panels will sit in batches of six Special Panels on the designated days between the 7″ and 10″ of December 2020, from the hours of 9am to 12pm daily”.
“Each Panel will hear about 15 ripe appeals with Five Panels sitting at five designated Courtrooms of the National Industrial Court, Ikoyi and one panel at Court 1 of the Court of Appeal here in Lagos Division”.
“A total of 345 appeals, comprising of 289 Commercial Appeals; 10 Human Right Appeals; and 46 Criminal Appeals are scheduled for hearing. The 345 scheduled Appeals for hearing represents only 8% of the total number of Appeals in the Lagos Division.
She stressed that it is their aspiration that the exercise should be a continuous one in their various Divisions until the backlog is greatly reduced.
“Undoubtedly, the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, is a critical Division within the Court. It sits at the commercial nerve centre of our great Nation, Nigeria. Despite this, the Division has continued to experience a timeless delay in the hearing of appeals before it, largely due to the volume of appeals in its docket and the limited number of Justices available to hear them,” Dongban- Mensem said.
“It is my desire and expectation that under my stewardship, delays in the hearing of Appeals will become a thing of the past, not just in Lagos Division but also in other divisions of the Court of Appeal,” she said.
“Also incorporated in these special sessions are enlightening and educative presentations from erudite and educative personalities and professionals such as Mrs. Folake Solanke, SAN, who is the First Woman to attain the Rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria as well as being among the first indigenous publishers of a Law Report in Nigeria. We specially thank the Learned Silk, who at 88 years of age is present to make a presentation to us, despite the risks to her health arising from the COVID 19 Pandemic.
These sessions begin at 5pm every evening and will not only refresh our minds but also positively impact us. The paper presentations cover an array of topics such as Health, Information, and Communications Technology (ICT) and reminders about the revered traditions of the Legal Profession.”
The Appeal Court president expressed her appreciation to the various heads of Courts.
A Professor of Law, Prof. Taiwo Osipitan SAN, who represented the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria at the event called for the review of the qualifications of senior advocates, stating that most of the frivolous applications at the Appeal Court were being filed by lawyers in order to meet with the prerequisite to becoming a member of the inner bar.
Below is the full text of Justice Dongbam-Mensem’s speech.
It gives me great pleasure and privilege to address us all here as we begin the Court of Appeal’s first Working Retreat which will end with the 2020 Annual Conference. The Working Retreat features special court sittings by all Justices of the Court of Appeal, drawn from all the Divisions of the Court. We are presently seventy in number, twenty less than the statutory requirement of 90 Justices of the Court of Appeal.
The purpose of this retreat is to send out a public message that this Court will no longer be a dumping ground for those who seek to hamper justice delivery in Nigeria. This week, it 1s also hoped that these special sittings will promote the collegiate spirit, which the Court is renowned for. Thirdly, our actions this week will afford us all a chance to discuss about various aspects of our work, health and wellbeing.
Undoubtedly, the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, 1s a critical Division within the Court. It sits at the commercial nerve centre of our great Nation, Nigeria. Despite this, the Division has continued to experience timeless delay in the hearing of appeals before it, largely due to the volume of appeals in its docket and the limited number of Justices available to hear them.
The statistics of Appeals currently lodged at the Court reveal that as at the 1″ of December 2020, there are presently over 4,630 Appeals and 6,207 Motions pending in the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal. On assumption of office, I discovered that majority of these Appeals, had either been abandoned or purposely left to lnger endlessly by mischievous and flippant actors in the litigation process. It is also regrettable to note that a good number of these appeals were filed with the aim of stalling the judicial process. ‘This situation must certainly not be allowed to continue. We have come out to demonstrate our abhorrence by taking the bull by the horn.
This Working Retreat consists of special court sessions involving 23 Special Appellate Panels. Due to time and space constraints, the Panels will sit in batches of six Special Panels on the designated days between the 7″ and 10″ of December 2020, from the hours of 9am to 12pm daily. Each Panel will hear about 15 ripe appeals with Five Panels sitting at five designated Court rooms of the National Industrial Court, Ikoyi and one panel at Court 1 of the Court of Appeal here in Lagos Division.
A total of 345 appeals, comprising of 289 Commercial Appeals; 10 Human Right Appeals; and 46 Criminal Appeals are scheduled for hearing. The 345 scheduled Appeals for hearing represents only 8% of the total number of Appeals in Lagos Division. The task ahead may appear daunting, but we are resolute in our determination to decongest the Court. It 1s therefore our aspiration that the exercise should be a continuous one in our various Divisions until the backlog is greatly reduced.
Also incorporated in these special sessions are enlightening and educative presentations from erudite and educative personalities and professionals such as Mrs. Folake Solanke, SAN, who is the First Woman to attain the Rank of Semor Advocate of Nigeria as well as being among the first indigenous publishers of a Law Report in Nigeria. We specially thank the Learned Silk, who at 88 years of age is present to make a presentation to us, despite the risks to her health arising from the COVID 19 Pandemic. We pray that the Almighty God continues to strengthen and uphold her.
These sessions begin at 5pm every evening and will not only refresh our minds but also positively impact us. The paper presentations cover an array of topics such as Health, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and reminders about the revered traditions of the Legal Profession.
We express profound appreciations to the various heads of Courts who have actively demonstrated the harmony in the Third Arm of Government. We sincerely appreciate my Lord, the Hon. Justice John Tsoho, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, who offered us the use of the Court’s premises as well as offices and the Federal High Court’s vehicles for the Justices of our
Court. I must also extend our profound gratitude to my Lord, the Hon. Justice Benedict Kanyip, the President of the National
Industrial Court, who literally shut down the Lagos Division of the National Industrial Court in order to accommodate us following the vandalisation of our own Court.
We also appreciate our Chief Host, the Hon. Chief Judge of Lagos State, the Hon. Justice Kazeem Alogba, who had already permitted us to use 24 Court halls, some of which were unfortunately burnt down following the violence that trailed the END SARS protest. The support and courtesies they have extended to us is indeed memorable and they must be specially recognised. My Lords we are most grateful.
I also thank the Nigerian Bar Association and the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria for their cooperation in ensuring the success of this exercise. The Courts would be hollow without the Lawyers; we therefore appreciate the unflinching support of the Princes to the Court, the Learned Silks and other learned counsel who have come out in their numbers to support the special session. We look forward to a harmonious working experience
with all of you.
May I also specially thank all my Brother Justices and the Support Staff of the Court of Appeal for their unquantifiable support; without the support of you all, it would have been difficult to conceive of this event; you have all been wonderful and I thank you all.
It is my desire and expectation that under my stewardship, delays in the hearing of Appeals will become a thing of the past, not just in Lagos Division but also in other divisions of the Court of Appeal. I look forward to walking hand in hand with each and
every one of you towards the bold new direction of our hallowed Court.
I thank you for your kind audience and wish us all the best of the week ahead.
May God bless us all and bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, has set up seven special panels saddled with the responsibility of decongesting the backlog of appeals.
She disclosed this on Monday in Abuja, on the occasion of the maiden edition of the meeting with presiding justices of the 20 Divisions of the Court of Appeal tagged: Working Conference of the Presiding Justices of the Court of Appeal.
Justice Dongban-Mensem explained that setting up the special panels became necessary in view of the lingering appeals clustering the court.
She blamed the development on what she described as the unwillingness of some litigants who have failed to file complete processes.
“The Court of Appeal cannot be used as a tool in the hands of these litigants who go into a deep slumber.
“All notices of appeal filed without being followed with other processes to ensure quick prosecution and disposal of the appeal should be shown the way out,” the justice said.
She added, “We have sufficient provisions in our rules, which are backed by constitutional provision for the disposal of matters in court.”
The Appeal Court president noted that since presiding justices were heads of the divisions, they can go ahead and take charge and keep up with the tempo in their various jurisdictions.
“In a nation with teeming unemployed graduates and restive youths, we must do our part to create jobs by ensuring that all appeals are heard expeditiously, especially those which involve corporate bodies and businesses which can provide jobs for our youths,” she said.
The working conference, the first of its kind, was specially chosen to promote a sense of togetherness by enabling the most experienced minds to be deployed on special decongestion panels that would tackle the most congested divisions.
The special panels are expected to sit in two sessions daily and will work for three days to depose of over 100 motions filed at various divisions of the court.
“The general public is hereby put on notice that the Honourable President of Court of Appeal of Nigeria – Hon. Justice Monica Dongban – Mensem has established the Election Petition Tribunal Secretariat and accordingly constituted a panel in respect of the Governorship Election conducted in Edo State.
“The Honourable Chief Judge of the State – Hon. Justice E.A Edigin has graciously approved the use of High Court Complex (Election Petition Court Hall), Sapele Road, Benin City for the Tribunal Exercise. The Secretariat is now open,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has earlier congratulated Governor Godwin Obaseki on his re-election.
Chairman of the APC national caretaker committee, Mai Mala Buni said in a statement that the peaceful conduct of the election and its outcome represents a victory for Nigeria’s democracy.
It is important to note that tribunals are set up constitutionally whether a party is heading to court or not.
Aggrieved candidates are expected to file their petitions within 21 days after the date of the declaration of results in line with section 134 subsection one of the electoral act.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, has sworn in Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem as the President of the Court of Appeal.
The swearing-in ceremony held on Friday at the conference room of the CJN’s office in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
He asked the newly sworn-in appellate court president to discharge her duties to the court without fear or favour.
Justice Muhammad also advised her to work closely with presiding justices of the Court of Appeal to achieve great strides in the nation’s judicial system.
He said, “Certainly, you will see that there is no court in this country that has the number of justices that the Court of Appeal has.
“Therefore, that shows you that the Court of Appeal is home of work, the Court of Appeal is home of cooperation; you have to cooperate together, all of you from top to bottom so that the work will continue to progress.”
After taking the oath of office, Justice Dongban-Mensem promised the CJN that she would contribute her quota to the growth of the nation’s judiciary.
On their part, Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, and Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, outlined their expectations from the Court of Appeal going forward.
The event had in attendance families, friends, colleagues of Justice Dongban-Mensem, as well as top government officials who stormed the venue to celebrate with her.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) on Tuesday elevated Sen. Abiola Ajimobi to serve as its acting National Chairman after the Court of Appeal upheld the suspension of Adams Oshiomhole.
Sen. Ajimobi was the party’s Deputy National Chairman for the southern region and is a former Governor of Oyo state.
In a statement signed by party spokesman Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu late Tuesday, the APC said its National Working Committee (NWC) had been guided by the party’s legal department in line with the provisions its constitution.
“According to Section 14.2. (iii),of the APC constitution, the Deputy National Chairman, North/South ‘Shall act as the National Chairman in the absence of the National Chairman from his zone’,” the statement said.
The Court of Appeal, earlier on Tuesday, had upheld the suspension of erstwhile National Chairman, Oshiomhole, by an Abuja High Court.
Ruling on the interlocutory appeal filed by Comrade Oshiomhole, the appellate court upheld the decision of the Federal Capital Territory High Court delivered by Justice Danlami Senchi which in March ordered the suspension of Oshiomhole as well as restraining him from parading himself as the National Chairman of the party.
Read the full statement:
Sen. Abiola Ajimobi to Serve As APC Acting National Chairman
The National Working Committee (NWC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has received the news indicating the Appeal Court has upheld the suspension of the Party’s National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole by an FCT High Court pending the determination of the substantive suit.
Guided by advice from the Party’s legal department in line with the provisions of Section 14.2. (iii) of the Party’s constitution, the Deputy National Chairman (South), Sen. Abiola Ajimobi will serve as the Party’s Acting National Chairman.
According to Section 14.2. (iii),of the APC constitution, the Deputy National Chairman, North/South “Shall act as the National Chairman in the absence of the National Chairman from his zone”.
SIGNED Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu National Publicity Secretary All Progressives Congress (APC)
The Acting President of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem has called on the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) to work out modalities for early and pragmatic training of Justices and Judges on the usage of the Manual for Election Petition Tribunal (EPT) as a way of broadening their scope of understanding its application.
She said: “I would like IFES to consider having more regular workshops for Justices and not just when elections are around the corner. This will also allow for proper feedback on how well people appreciate this effort and how your organisation intends to implement the issues raised to ensure that the process is better executed for positive result”.
Justice Dongban-Mensem made the plea when the Country Director of IFES, Mr Hermann Thiel, led the Deputy Country Director, Seray Jah and the Project Manager, Mr Simon Fanto to brief her on plans being made to convene a debriefing conference of the Justices and Judges who participated in the 2019 Election Petition Tribunal Processes as well as review the Manual for Election Petition Tribunal (EPT).
The IFES Country Director, Mr Hermann Thiel disclosed that their visit was of dual-purpose, first to familiarise himself with the new Acting President of the Court of Appeal and intimate her on the organisation’s activities.
The second purpose was to chart a new beginning on the way forward on how to overcome the challenges the COVID-19 poses in bringing back the 250 Judges drawn from the 36 states of the Federation, who participated in EPT for a debriefing conference especially, with the Federal Government’s guidelines on social distancing, which bans movement and official gatherings in the country.
In their contributions, the IFES Project Manager, Mr Simon Fanto and the Deputy Country Director, Mr. Seray Jah informed Justice Dongbam-Mensah that apart from training judges, IFES also collates feedback from the judges which helps in the review of the manual for election petition tribunals.
“As a tradition, at the end of the tribunal sittings, the post-election conference takes place where all the Judges come together to share experiences on what had happened while in the field, with a view to understanding the best processes that assisted them and those that posed challenges” Mr Fanto reiterated.
Specifically, the Project Manager informed the Acting President that the fall-out from such interface formed the bases for future reforms.
“Now that there are a lot of reforms that are ongoing, especially at the National Assembly as well as the legal components, we are primarily here to discuss and seek your Lordship’s guidance on how to reconvene the Post-Election Petition Tribunal Conference, review the recommendations from the discussions; this will trickle down to the production of the 2023 fourth edition of the Manual.”
“We also would like to brainstorm on what strategies to evolve, considering the realities on ground, because IFES brings all the Judges together-about 250 in number for the debriefing Workshop/Review, but the realities on ground may not permit that to happen. So, we are suggesting the use of ICT tools as the key strategy on the way forward the Deputy Country Director added.”
On the way forward, while commending IFES for a job well done in partnering with the Court of Appeal, the Acting President, observed that although it is a difficult period now necessitating thinking out of the box, on how things can be done differently, to achieve same results irrespective of the pandemic while leveraging on ICT tools to reach out to these Justices and Judges, suggested a decentralisation of the project to the six geopolitical zones of the country.
For emphasis, Justice Dongban-Mensem noted that enormous documents are presented before these Judges during the tribunal sittings, saddling them with a lot of paperwork which according to her is not a good time for the manual to be given to them.”
She suggested that if these manuals are made available ahead of time for the Judges to study and, follow-up workshops are organised specifically to address issues to be raised by the 250 Judges who participated in the Election Petition Tribunal, it will ease the tension being faced due to insufficient time for the study and assimilation of the guidelines, as contained in the Manual.
Justice Dongban-Mensem remarked that the idea whereby a lot of documents were dumped on Judges, who were expected to go through such materials without proper guidance, did not augur well for smooth justice delivery and urged IFES to take a closer look and find ways to address the issue. “In our rules, we say that briefs should not be more than a certain number of pages; yet they will reduce the font size of such briefs, compressing 60 pages to 30 pages, thereby putting excess pressure on our eyes.
“In planning the next edition of the manual, I think the Senior Advocates of Nigeria and lawyers should be involved because their roles are crucial in such decision-making process,” the Acting President suggested.
Highlighting the point raised by the Acting President, the Chief Registrar, Mr Ibrahim Aliyu recalled that in 2015, IFES had seminars and interactions with the tribunal Judges where they shared their experiences in the field.
He said through the feedback, updating the manual will give first-hand information to the tribunal Judges for improved adjudication on electoral matters.
This was after the lawyer representing Senator Ubah adopted his written address urging the court to sustain their appeal.
Lawyers to two of the respondents, while adopting their written addresses urged the court to dismiss the appeal on the ground that the court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the appeal and that it is status barred.
Justice Bello Kawu of the Federal Capital Territory High Court sitting at Kubwa, had in a judgment delivered on April 11, 2019, sacked Senator Ubah from the senate on the premise that he allegedly used a forged National Examination Council (NECO) certificate to contest the senatorial election that held in Anambra South on February 23, 2019.
Justice Kawu directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the certificate of return which it issued to Senator Ubah and issue a fresh one to Dr Uzoh of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who came second at the election.