Posted by: Chris Oji
The National Judicial Council (NJC) has queried the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Innocent Umezulike over his conduct in suit no E/270/2012 between Ichie Jude Okuli and the National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) Chief Victor Umeh.
Umezulike was given one month to respond to the query, dated October 4, 2012 and personally signed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman of NJC, Justice Aloma Mariam Muktar (GCON).
It reads: “I forward herewith a petition dated 21st September 2012 by one Chief Victor Umeh JP, APGA National Chairman, on the above subject matter. The petition is self explanatory. I shall be glad to have your comments within one month from the date of receipt of this letter, please.”
The query issued to the Chief Judge by the NJC was prompted by a petition lodged to the council by Umeh, the only defendant in the suit, complaining about the gross abuse of due process of the law by the Chief Judge.
The APGA boss alleged that Justice Umezulike erred in his handling of the case, especially by refusing to rule on the preliminary objection which he brought before the court, and was duly argued by both counsels.
Umeh informed the NJC that the Chief Judge extended the life span of the ex-parte order he made against him on July 25, 2012 by extra 48 days against the High Court Rule of Enugu State which satipulates that an exparte order cannot last beyond 14 days. He explained that by the action of the Chief Judge, the ex-parte order which ought not to last more than 14 days was extended to 55 days without any request by any of the parties in the matter.
Part of his petition reads: ”By 31st July, 2012, the CJ took full arguments on notice of preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the case. The CJ adjourned the matter to 17th September, 2012, for a rendition of the considered ruling of the court on the notice of preliminary objection
“In adjourning the matter, the CJ stated that ‘if this court accedes to the contentions of the defendants/ applicants on any of the above issues, this suit shall legitimately come to an end …In the event, I shall adjourn the case for a considered ruling on the merits. In the circumstances, the interim order of this court shall endure against the parties and against the convention of any APGA Executive Committee Meetings as stated under the order until the court’s rendition of a ruling which I now fixed for the 20th day of September, 2012,” Umeh said.
He, however, regretted that on the day when the ruling ought to have been delivered by the Chief Judge, to the amazement of the people who gathered in court, the Chief Judge declared that he has remanded his ruling and would instead hear the main suit and deliver judgment on the preliminary objection and the main suit together.
The direction taken by the court, Umeh said, has exposed the Chief Judge as being desperate to get into the main matter and deliver judgement against him, knowing that the notice of preliminary objection was strong enough to have legitimately terminated the suit, being grossly incompetent as APGA was not made a party.
The APGA Chairman noted that in his letter of 19th September 2012 to the Chief Judge, he requested for the Transfer/Re-assignment of the case to another judge”, and informed the Chief Judge that he no longer has confidence in obtaining justice in his court, being reasonably satisfied that he is biased, compromised and was intent on causing mischief for their dear party, APGA.
He regretted that since July 25, 2012 till date, activities in the party had been halted because of the exparte order, which had paralyzed the entire party apparatus and therefore urged the NJC Chairman to urgently intervene by calling Justice Umezulike to order, and ensure that the due process is followed.
“In this era of Rule of Law, as an ardent believer in the ideals of democracy, I have no doubt that judicial impartiality is an important hallmark of due administration of justice . I will be grateful if the Chief Judge of Enugu State is made to understand that every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to justice and fair hearing” the APGA boss stated.
Meanwhile Umeh has appealed against the interlocutory injunction granted last Monday by Justice Umezulike restraining him from acting as the National Chairman of APGA, pending the determination of the substantive suit before the Court. Umeh also filed a motion before the Court of Appeal, asking for a stay of execution of the injunction granted by the Enugu State High Court.