Any politician in Anambra State seeking public office who furtively goes all the way from Awka to Birnin Kudu, Jigawa State, a distance of 901.8 kilometres, to engage in what lawyers call forum shopping cannot be bestowed with an integrity award. Any politician from Anambra State who sues the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) at the Jigawa State High Court sitting at Birnin Kudu, without the party being aware of the action or the proceedings, cannot by any stretch of the imagination, be considered honest. Any public office-seeker who surreptitiously arranges for his lawyers and a political cipher to appear before the court under the impression that the lawyers and political minion are from two different camps with a view to misleading the court deserves action against him to serve as a deterrent to other political buccaneers.
Most Nigerians welcome the judgment of the Special Panel of the Court of Appeal in Kano, which, on Tuesday, August 10, setting aside the eminently controversial decision of the Jigawa State High Court at Birnin Kudu, not only recognising Jude Okeke as the APGA national chairman but also empowering him to send to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the name of the party’s candidate in the November 6 gubernatorial election in Anambra state. But Nigerians would have been more pleased if the appellate court had recommended to the police to arrest and prosecute Okeke and his sponsor, Chukwuma Umeoji of the House of Representatives, appears to want to be the Anambra State governor at all costs and by all means. Rather than thank their stars for not getting adequately punished for their bad behaviour, the duo have been reported as saying that they will go to the Supreme Court to challenge the judgment of the Court of Appeal. They will meet their Waterloo at the highest court in the land.
Alarmed at the conduct of her professional colleagues, Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme of the Court of Appeal in Awka, on Monday, August 1, 2021, demanded that the judges of the Birnin Kudu court and the Imo State High Court sitting in Owerri be punished for not just entertaining cases they knew in their hearts they had no jurisdiction to handle but also passing consequential judgments on them. This brilliant and courageous jurist also demanded that lawyers like Chibuzor be disciplined by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Disciplinary Committee for professional misconduct.
Of course, Justice Nwosu-Iheme was not alone. The NBA has asked that severe action be taken against the Jigawa and Imo state high court judges as well as lawyers who took the cases to them. On Saturday, August 9, Dr. Monday Ubani, chairman of the NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL), issued a powerful statement chastising lawyers who take up such cases for obviously pecuniary gains. Dr. Ubani, a former NBA second vice-president, wrote: “That such cases are filed by lawyers, especially senior lawyers in the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, is not only shocking but increasingly disgusting. What should evoke mourning is that such lawyers usually escape disciplinary measures of the Nigerian Bar Association over the years. The resultant effect is that cases of a more bizarre nature are being regularly filed with impunity by this category of lawyers.”
The NBA SPIDEL chairman continued the soul-stirring statement with the following words, citing the pathetic Anambra case: “The journey of the case started somewhere in Jigawa that is several hundreds of kilometres away from Anambra State, the state that has territorial jurisdiction to decide the matter. Both the lawyer and the judge that decided on the case knew that the Jigawa State High Court does not have the territorial jurisdiction, but went ahead to decide the case, not minding the consequence of such a brazen decision that is fatally flawed.”
Another legal luminary, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, has also publicly lashed out at the judges and lawyers who got involved in the Anambra APGA leadership drama over a convention, which took place in Anambra State. He demanded commensurate punitive action against them. Groups like the League of Professionals (LAP), led by Chijioke Okoli, SAN, are writing to the appropriate authorities for immediate action against the lawyers and judges concerned. Individuals like Patrick Ikwueto, SAN, are also petitioning the NJC and the NBA.
As expected, non-lawyers, too, are dismayed at the conduct of judges and lawyers in the APGA matter. Writing on August 5, Olusegun Adeniyi, Thisday editorial board chairman, noted: “Ahead of the November gubernatorial election, politicians from the state are procuring court judgments from Abuja, Kano, Jigawa, Imo and several other states. The judges outside Anambra State who are dishing out ‘extracurricular’ orders/judgments and courts with coordinate jurisdictions nullifying one another must know that they are abusing their power.”
Former President Goodluck Jonathan told the Thisday editorial board chairman a few years ago that Anambra State politicians contesting in an election frequently enter the race with up to six court orders in their pockets each! This is not democracy but sheer anarchy. It beats our imagination that even after unscrupulous Anambra politicians have ruined the careers and reputations of judges like Wilson Egbo Egbo of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Stanley Nnaji of the Enugu State High Court, Okechukwu Opene of the Court of Appeal and Adeleye Adedoyin, also of the Court of Appeal, some members of the Bench are allowing themselves to be messed up by the same crop of politicians.
It is time to put the litigious Anambra politicians in their place. The Supreme Court should use the opportunity of the appeal against the decision of the Special Panel of the Court of Appeal in Kano to recommend to the police to arrest and prosecute Okeke and Umeoji, if they should have the effrontery to bring the matter to the Supreme Court as they have pledged. There should be no mercy for politicians who have made dishonesty a way of life. Of course, there must be a limit to the dethronement of reason by Anambra politicians. Such a pity that a politician pretending to be an APGA member is actually an APC surrogate working so hard to make Anambra get to the level of Hope Uzodimma’s Imo State. God will never allow them.
• Ifeanacho, a human rights activist, is a lawyer based in Nnewi, Anambra State