The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, has asked a judge of the Federal High Court in Lagos, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, to explain why judgment was not delievered in a 2011 pre-election suit after judgment was fixed twice within the last three years.
It was learnt that the CJN’s correspondence to the judge, with Reference number NJC/F.3/FHC.26/1/232 dated February 17, was sequel to a petition to the National Judicial Council (NJC) by Mrs. Victoria Ayeni, the plaintiff in the 2011 pre-election suit brought against Olusola Sonuga and two others.
The CJN’s missive, which served as a reminder, was titled: “Re: Petition against Honourable Justice R.N. Ofili-Ajumogobia, sitting at the Lagos Judicial Division of the Federal High Court of Nigeria”. It was copied to the court’s Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Auta.
“I forward herewith a reminder petition dated 31st January, 2014 (sic) by the petitioner, Mrs. Victoria A.A. Ayeni.
“You are, therefore, requested to explain why judgment cannot be delievered in the matter. Your response should be forwarded to my Chambers through your Chief Judge within two weeks from the date of your receipt of this letter, please.” It was signed by the CJN and in his capacity as the Chairman of the NJC.
Judgment in the suit No. FHC/AB/CS/31/2011, which was reportedly argued by parties on May 22, 2012 in Abeokuta, was first fixed for judgment on July 10, 2012.
It was argued de-novo (afresh) in Lagos following a directive by the Chief Judge that the matter be concluded by the trial judge, who had then been transferred to Lagos. Judgment was fixed for June 14, 2014. But judgment is yet to be delivered in the matter till date.
In her petition, Ayeni, an aspirant for the Ogun State House of Assembly on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had accused the judge of having a “compromising posture” in the suit numbered FHC/AB/CS/31/2011. The PDP and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are the other defendants.
The petitioner, who alleged that the trial judge was using judicial powers against her since 2011, is asking for a panel of investigation to be set up to determine whether or not the trial judge “has not compromised her position” as a judge in the suit.
Ayeni alleged that hearing in the suit, which was filed on June 2, 2011 through an Originating Summons, did not commence until May 22, 2013, after seven adjournments.
The petitioner said it was in the course of waiting for the judgment that the judge was transferred to the Lagos Judicial Division, adding that it took several months before the Chief Judge directed that the matter be concluded.
She claimed she paid several visits to the court in Lagos without getting a hearing date.
Consequent, her lawyer, Dele Ajasa, wrote a letter dated May 30, 2013, requesting for a date for hearing which was later fixed for November 25, 2013.
Though her counsel and that of the first defendant argued their case on the resumption date, she claimed that the trial judge ordered that a fresh hearing date be served on the second and third defendants and adjourned the matter till December 3, 2013.
The matter, she claimed, went through six adjournments before a fresh hearing was finally held on April 3, 2014 and judgment fixed for June 16, 2014.
The petitioner added that case suffered several adjournments between June 16 and July 16, 2014.
According to Ayeni, she lost her patience when it became obvious that the judgment may never be delivered.
Although fixed for July 16, 2014, the judgment was again not delivered that day despite the fact that her counsel and that of the second defendant were in court.
Spokesperson of the NJC, Mr. Soji Oye, said given the date of the CJN’s correspondence, the judge would have replied the CJN.
Oye said if she can defend her action and her reply appears satisfactory, there would be no problem and they would write the petitioner appropriately.
“But if he is not, he can then set up a committee to investigate the allegation of the petitioner and the committee would recommend to the NJC. I believe that committee would have sat by now and taken its decision and made a recommendation to the CJN,” he said.
Asked if that could be the reason why the judge has not given a date for judgment in the matter, he said it all depended on what the committee recommended to the CJN.
In the originating summons, Ayeni, aside from listing four issues for determination, had prayed the court for an injunction restraining the third defendant from recognising and, or accepting the first defendant as the candidate of the PDP for Ikenne constituency in the April 26, 2011 election into Ogun State House of Assembly.
She sought an order nullifying the certificate of return issued by the third defendant to the first defendant; an order deeming the plaintiff as the candidate of the PDP for Ikenne constituency that won the April 26, 2011 elections into the Ogun State House of Assembly, among the nine reliefs sought from the court.
But the first defendant, in his 24-point counter affidavit, contended that he won the primary election of the party and was duly announced as winner.
He averred that the plaintiff voluntarily withdrew her candidacy for the April 2011 general election and that it was on that strength, which was also communicated to the second and third defendants, that the final list was released by the party, showing candidates for the election.
He contended that the plaintiff having validly withdrawn her candidacy two months before the election could not turn around to challenge her substitution with himself.
The second defendant, who was the secretary of the party and had good knowledge of the event, averred that it was the party that persuaded the plaintiff to withdraw her candidacy in order to increase the party’s chances of winning the election.
He contended that the plaintiff willingly withdrew her candidature to enable the first defendant fly the party’s flag at the election since the first defendant is from Ikenne, adding, “the state chairman of our party, Chief Dayo Soremi therefore wrote a letter dated February 10, 2011 in which the party gave notice of the change of the party’s candidate from the plaintiff to the first defendant and forwarded the INEC Form CF 004-Notice of Change of Candidate duly signed by the plaintiff to the third defendant”.
In its own counter affidavit, the third defendant admitted paragraphs 1 to four and denied all other averments of the plaintiff in her affidavit deposed to in support of the originating summons and contended that before the final list of candidates for the general election was released in Ogun State by the third defendant, the second defendant through a letter dated February 10, 2011 notified the commission that Mrs. Atinuke Ajoke (Ayeni) had voluntarily withdrawn as the party’s candidate by signing form CF.004.
It contended that between the date the plaintiff voluntarily withdrew her candidacy and the date of election, the third defendant never received any counter letter with respect to the voluntary withdrawal of the plaintiff.