The Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Innocent Umezulike, last Monday ordered the Commissioner of Police in Enugu State to arrest Peter Eze, an Enugu-based lawyer who has written petitions to the National Judicial Council (NJC) accusing the judge of ethical misconduct, including accepting N10 million from a litigant before his court.
A legal source told our correspondent that Justice Umezulike ordered that Mr. Eze be arrested and produced in court to be examined in connection with an allegation bordering on the forgery of a will.
The judge made the order whilst entering judgment in a lawsuit between the wife and children of a deceased architect, Paul Iloabachie. In his verdict, Justice Umezulike ruled that, even though the parties had settled the suit out of court and had agreed to rely on the will dated September 15, 2007, he was not willing to ignore the issue of possible criminality regarding the authorship of a second will dated October 27, 2009. Mr. Eze had acted as the lawyer to the late architect and had prepared his wills.
Justice Umezulike, who has had a running battle with Mr. Eze over the lawyer’s allegation that the judge had violated conflict of interest rules on several occasions, remarked that Mr. Eze must appear in court to explain his role in the preparation of the late architect’s wills. On September 22, 2015, the Chief Judge had directed the Commissioner of Police, Enugu State, to arrest Mr. Eze and bring him before the court. Reaffirming that order, Justice Umezulike instructed the police to bring Mr. Eze before his court on April 11, 2016 for cross-examination to clear the legal issues relating to the disputed will dated October 27, 2009.
The judge and Mr. Eze have had a running battle since 2014 when the lawyer first petitioned the NJC accusing the judge and another high-ranking judicial officer in Enugu State, Vin Aneke, of falsifying signatures on a court judgment to enable a party in a long-running land dispute to assume ownership forcibly.
A few weeks ago, based on Mr. Eze’s petition, Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, asked the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the Inspector General of Police to investigate Justice Umezulike and Mr. Aneke for alleged forgery of a court order.
Only last week, the NJC issued a query on Justice Umezulike to respond to grave allegations of misconduct made against him by Mr. Eze. One of Mr. Eze’s complaints was that the Chief Judge had accepted a donation of N10 million from Arthur Eze, a litigant in his court, at the launch of a book authored by the judge. In his petition against the judge, the lawyer declared that Arthur Eze (who is no relative of the lawyer) had several suits still pending in Justice Umezulike’s court at the time he made the donation.