The general public, litigants, lawyers and stakeholders are to take notice of the trending suspected corruption especially that based on financial corruption, in the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory- Abuja’s Administration. This is very necessary considering the facts that the courts system and the court itself have attained the status of being the last hope of the common man. However, where the Court in its administration and management engages in financial corruption in its services to the public, then, there is a great danger to justice dispensation. That is why as a human rights activist and an anti-corruption crusader, I have decided to call on the members of the public and the stakeholders in the courts system to prevail upon those in charge of the High Court of FCT’s administration and management to ensure transparency and accountability in its administration and management.
Sometimes around October, 2018, I observed and discovered that the Management of the FCT High Court has been charging 10% of any fees paid on all affidavits that are not court processes. I wrote my complaints to the Chief Registrar of the High Court of the FCT about the issue in October, 2018, but up till this moment, there was no response. I also applied for Certified True Copy of the following information pursuant to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011:
- The name(s) of the Company (ies) to which the receipt of the said 10% increase fees has been contracted to by the Management of the court and for the purpose of which a teller has always been issued by the ASO Savings Bank located in the Court’s premises of Maitama, Abuja?;
- The total amount of moneys (both in figures and in words) generated and or recovered from the said 10% increase from the 22nd day of August, 2016, till date;
- The total expenditures and balance (in figures and in words only and not in a broken down or detailed form) on the said generated sum from the 22nd day of August, 2016, till date;
- Certified True Copy of the contract agreement made between the said Company (ies) and this Honourable Court on the 10% increase;
- What purpose is the said 10% increase on the filing fees meant for?
Most disappointingly, the application for the Certified True Copy was received by the Chief Registrar’s Office on the 23rd day of October, 2018. After submission, the application was referred to the Director Litigation’s office of the Court on the 8th of November, 2018. Then, it was referred to the Head of Process of the Court on the 13th day of November, 2018. After that, when I went to confirm the status, the record showed that the application had been referred back to the Director Litigation, precisely in the litigation’s registry on the 19th day of November, 2018. Then, from the Litigation Registry’s record, it was discovered that the application had been moved back to the Chief Registrar’s office on the 22nd day of November, 2018. On my inquiry on the application on the 14th day of January, 2019, after several posting by the various registries of the Court since October, 2018, notwithstanding that the application ought to have been made available not exceeding seven (7) days pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 2011. I was informed that my application could no longer be traced! Also, on the 15th day of January, 2018, the Registry finally confirmed to me that the application could not be found and that such things do happen! Then, I was asked to bring a reminder! I was very disappointed! Very disgusting indeed! How can an application that has records that the application is in the custody of the Chief Registrar’s Office get missing just suddenly?! The record as of the moment is that the application is in the Chief Registrar’s office. Then, who should be blamed of hiding the application?! Definitely, it is the Chief Registrar of the Court! Also, why would the application be missing when the record confirms that the application was last received in the Chief Registrar’s office if there is no suspicion of financial corruption because of the nature and content of the application?!
As a reminder to the reader of this paper, according to a public notice which in law serves as an administrative legislation or subsidiary legislation so to say, which was issued and signed by the Management of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory- Abuja, to all lawyers and the general public, and pasted around some areas of the Court’s Headquarters’ premises in Maitama, Abuja, it is provided thus ‘This is to inform all lawyers and the general public that the digitization process of the Honourable Court via the E-filing/ Court Case Management System Platform commences on the 22nd August, 2016. Consequently, there shall be a 10% increase in the filing fees provided in the Rules of this Honourable Court. The number of proceses filed shall also increase by one extra copy. Subsequently, lawyers, law firms will be able to access all processes filed by them via the platform. We appeal for total compliance to enable us serve you better.’. (Underlining is mine for emphasis).
From the foregoing, since the 22nd day of August, 2016, the increase of the said 10% has always been charged and collected. Unfortunately, I have observed that members of the public (including lawyers) continue to make the said payment without receiving any service as provided by the said notice.
Furthermore, I observed that upon several payments of the said 10% made by either lawyers or litigants, including the writer of this paper, there has been no single process that has been E-Filed as undertaken by the Management of the Court under any platform. For instance, I have paid 10% since 2017 and I have continued to pay the sum but none of my processes has been E-filed.
Furthermore, I have observed from each of the tellers that the said 10% has always been paid to a private limited liability company’s bank account through the ASO Savings & Loans PLC, with the account number ‘0126244817’, the company which is known as ‘YWC TECHNOLOGIES LIMITED’ with the registration number ‘648972’, and having its details as contained in a public search that I conducted via the Corporate Affairs Commission’s public search platform. However, I have observed that in the year 2017, as shown on some of his tellers, the account number of the YWC into which the writer of this paper paid 10% was ‘012002179848013’.
Furthermore, around the year 2018, I discovered that the said YWC has also been collecting 10% of all affidavits for either change of name, etc, (where an affidavit is supposed to be N500.00 only and no more) without any legal justification and or basis, as the said public notice only permits the said 10% only for the purpose of E-filing of court’s processes. I then wrote a complaint to the Chief Registrar of the Court challenging the illegal fees, the letter which is dated and acknowledged by the Chief Registrar’s office on the 22nd day of October, 2018. Also, the ASO Savings Bank staff confirmed that the Bank has been collecting this 10% on all these non-court’s processes upon the instruction given to them by the YWC, the instruction which according to the Court Management, the Court was not aware of. Though, up till the moment of writing this article, there is no official response to the letter written to me.
I actually find it very unbearable that the management of the Court would contract such services to a private company to render electronic services of E-filing of court’s processes but has only been receiving and generating funds from the unsuspecting members of the public, lawyers and litigants without having rendered the required services, since the 22nd day of August, 2016 till date and continuously! Also, no monitoring or effective monitoring is carried out on the activities of the said private company- YWC- in the public interest, even within the Court’s premises.
Also, on a personal assessment as to how much that would have been generated illegally, I estimated that where 100 persons pay the sum of N50.00 each on a day, for 20 days a month and for a year, it totals the sum of twenty-four million naira only (N24,000,000.00), whereas, in this case, the sum of 10% paid by any payer is not fixed at any particular sum rather, it is based on 10% of whatever the prescribed fee payable. One would also consider the amount that would have been illegally generated and received from the non-courts processes!
Furthermore, from this development, it is glaring that the Management of the High Court of the FCT must be investigated for financial corruption. I had sometimes around November, 2018, petitioned the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Offences Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate the Management of the Court on grounds of suspected financial crimes and other forms of corruption on this 10% issue, though, I am yet to receive any communication to the effect of necessary steps being taken on the matter.
I therefore call on the members of the public to hold the Chief Registrar of the High Court of FCT and the Honourable, the Chief Judge of the Court, being the Heads of the Management of the Court responsible for any financial corruption in the High Court of FCT, for the attitude displayed by the Chief Registrar’s Office has shown that the management finds it very difficult to provide the information requested perhaps because the financial corruption allegations against the Management are true and the Management would have subjected itself to public ridicule if it releases such information. But why did the Management not clearly be true to its stand rather than embarrassing the Court’s system that the application has gone missing even when the records traced it to the Chief Registrars’ office as the last office that the application was received?!
Finally, the Management of the Court is hereby challenged to investigate why the application went missing, where is it, among other necessary investigations to regain its integrity, but until then, the Management is not absolved of the allegation of financial corruption, embezzlement of public funds or funds meant for public services, breach of the provisions of Freedom of Information Act, hoarding of information that it is by law under obligation to release, among others unless and until the Management proves otherwise. And the battle line has just been drawn between me and the Management of the Court! There must definitely be accountability!