As the new Chief Justice of Nigerian (CJN), Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen (JSC) settles down in his exalted office, the soundness or otherwise of his ruling at the Supreme Court in a 2014 verdict is up for a judicial reappraisal at the same apex court.
In a ruling delivered on February 11, 2014 in suit Number SC./440/2012 involving Mrs. Mojisola Edebiri (Appellant) and Prince Omotayo Daniel & ANOR (Respondents), Justice Onnoghen had dismissed the appeal instituted by Edebiri on the ground that “Appellant haven sold or divested himself of any interest in the property, subject matter of the appeal, has no further interest therein to protect.”
This judicial precedent is however, up for scrutiny this time in a fresh appeal involving Sokoto Prince, Elder Statesman and former Nigeria’s Ambassador to South Africa, Alhaji Shehu Malami and businessman Sir Emeka Offor in a dispute over an Asokoro Abuja property, which both Malami and Offor seized from a Nigerian-American Businessman, Mr. Imokhuede Ohikhuare. The property, a two-wing duplex property built on Plot 1809 Asokoro by Mr. Ohikhuare and valued at over N1 billion, was seized from the Nigerian-American businessman based on a judgment delivered by an Abuja High Court Judge A.S. Umar in a suited filed by Ambassador Malami.
However, in a unanimous decision delivered on May 28, 2015, the Court of Appeal, Abuja restored the ownership of the property to Mr. Ohikhuare on several grounds, including the fact that Ambassador Malami “had divested himself of any interest in the property” through an irrevocable power of attorney he donated to Offor before he instituted the suit at the High Court. Since Offor was not part of the High Court proceedings, the Court of Appeal also ruled that there was no proper plaintiff at the lower court hence the verdict of the court below was invalid as it stood on nothing.
The appeal at the Supreme Court, which has been heard thrice so far and is scheduled for another hearing on Tuesday March 28, 2017, is of interest to legal pundits as the Supreme Court would have to decide whether to uphold its own decision in Edebiri vs Omotayo as delivered in the lead judgment by Justice Onnoghen, the nation’s new CJN, or overturn itself and Justice Onnoghen’s decision.
The upcoming appeal would also test Justice Onnoghen’s avowal to reform the Judiciary under his watch as CJN, especially in upholding the rule of law, zero tolerance for impunity and timely dispensation of justice by reducing adjournments to the barest minimum. This is because the last two adjournments in the matter were forced on the Supreme Court by open disputes over whom among two young lawyers – J. C. Njikonye (Esq) and Shaka Awaliene (Esq) – has Ambassador Malami’s brief to represent him in the matter at the Supreme Court. While Njikonye claimed that he was appearing for Malami and Offor as joint Appellants in the suit, Awaliene insisted that he had Malami’s sole brief to represent the elder statesman in the case, insisting that Ambassador Malami has no interest in pursuing the matter at the Supreme Court and therefore wants his name struck off the suit.
Both Njikonye and Awaliene tasked the patience of the five-man panel of Supreme Court justices to the fullest depth possible on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 when the matter came up for hearing as the duo traded claims and counter claims on holding brief for Ambassador Malami.
A similar situation truncated the hearing of the matter on May 17, 2016 when the apex court directed Mr Joe Agi (SAN), who, like Njikonye, announced his appearance for Ambassador Malami and Sir Offor at the May hearing, and Awaliene to resolve the controversy of Malami’s brief.
18 March, 2017