By Writ of Summons in Suit No: Hu/279/2019 & Hu/273/2019 filed on 2/9/2019 before the Hon. Chief by Deacon Udom Gabriel Emmanuel and Senator Dickson Effiong Bob against Barr. Leo Ekpenyong seeking sundry reliefs over an alleged defamatory publication against them sequel to to 2019 Election Petition Tribunal in Akwa Ibom State.
The claimants are jointly represented by Barr. Samuel Ikpo while the Defendant was then represented by Dr. Patrick P. Umoh. Inline with our practice, parties had filed and exchanged all material pleadings in the case including Pre-Trial Information Sheet as required by law.
The Pre-Trial Conference was then fixed on the 12/11/2020 off records, but on the said date, His lordship could not sit on grounds of Ill health and the matter was further adjourned to the 26/11/2020 off records again for the Pre-Trial Conference in the absence of the defence counsel, and no communication whatsoever was made to them.
However, on the said 26/11/2020, the court now sat. Claimants were represented while the Defendant was absent and unrepresented apparently because they were not aware of the date of the case. The claimants’ counsel Eddie Esq., then urged on the court to enter default judgement in accordance to Order 25 Rule 6(b) of the Rules of Court which the court granted and entered judgement in the sum of 1.5 Billion Naira and 150 Million Naira with cost of 100 Thousand Naira respectively in favour of the Claimants and against the defendant.
It was after this default judgement that the defendant now briefed our law firm to handle the case in order to see how the default judgement can be set aside. As expected, we swung into action, filed Motion on Notice in Suit No: Hu/Misc. 175/2021 & Hu/Misc. 174/2021 respectively urging on the court to set aside the default judgement on grounds of violation of the Defendant’s/Applicant’s right to fair hearing among other things.
In receipt of the process, the claimants counsel filed Preliminary Objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the application having been filed out of time allowed by law. Issues were then joined. It is now pertinent to state that the problem of Inibehe Effiong started the very day that application was ripped for hearing. During the proceedings, My Lord had raised several issues Suo Moto against the application which Inibehe rightly responded to. However, in the cause of responding to those issues, My Lord became agitating reprimanding Effiong for his audacity to argue with His lordship on issues of law (obviously my Lord had expected Effiong to always reply in the traditional remarks of “as the court pleases” “Yes my Lord” etc. Unfortunately, Inibehe is not that type of lawyer. So my Lord, in anger then descended on my colleague with unprintable comments like; “you don’t stand before me and talk nonsense”, ” I have been on this side of the law for over 30 years and you don’t come and teach me law from there”, “is anything the matter with you”, “You’re not on Channels Television, neither are you on Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Television”.
Fortunately, after this argument, my Lord graciously set aside the default judgement on 16th February, 2022.
After that ruling, my Lord then adjourned the matter for continuation of the Pre-Trial Conference and directed counsel to bring and application for extension of time to that effect. Howbeit, defendant following these continuous rowdy and hostile scenarios including altercations and abuses, instructed us to write to His lordship to Please reassign the matter to another judge for trial. The said letter is dated the 18th of May, 2022.
On the 21st of June when the matter came up, I appeared alone for the defendant. In the cause of proceedings, I drew my Lord attention to the letter for transfer pending before the court. My Lord immediately interjected me by saying;
“I saw the Letter and I did order that you should make a formal application so that the other party can respond but you evaded service of that process”. Referring to my colleague, my Lord said; “what about that lousy boy, what’s his name again,…the claimants’ counsel responded; Inibehe Effiong. My Lord said yes, that rude boy was found running in the street of Uyo, evading service and was chased after by the bailiff…, You people want to frustrate this case with this your application.., you will not. The other day, that’s how you people brought a herbalist to this court (that’s referring to a journalist who was in court to observe proceedings that very day).
With utmost dismay, I couldn’t believe myself. I then pleaded with my Lord that we never evaded any service of the process, and that my colleague is not based in Uyo, but Lagos.
In anger for daring to argue with my Lord, His lordship quickly ordered the clerk of court to seize my phone, check if I was recording. When it was discovered that I wasn’t recording, my Lord asked that my phone be switched off and seized from me. As I stammered to utter another word, my Lord yell at me to step out of the court and derobe myself that he’s sending me to prison for contempt. I was shocked to my marrow. While I stepped out, my Lord continue to denigrate my colleague Inibehe for his unruly behaviour, that he has influenced me with it. That I had better find a Senior lawyer and attach myself and learn proper principles of law and conduct.
Regarding my committal, I was helplessly miserable, cause I had done nothing to warrant such unthinkable attack. So I managed to utter some words of apologies to the court if my comment had ever offended the court. Another learned Seniour from the bar, equally stood up and appealed for my pardon. That was how I escaped the sentencing hammer.
After the unfortunate scene, the court asked the claimants’ counsel to put in his witness to commence trial, however, the claimants’ counsel informed the court that he did come with his witness since the matter for scheduled for mention, but that at the next adjourned date, he’ll bring his witness. The court then ask us to take date wherein Claimants’ counsel suggested 14th and 15th of July, 2022, but my Lord said it was too far and imposed 24th June, 2022 on us against my protest that the date was not convenient to me.
On the 24th June, we had already prepared and filed a formal application for my Lord to recuse himself from handling the case on grounds of bias and or likelihood of bias. In the affidavit in support of the application, we stated emphatically how my Lord attended the wedding ceremony of the daughter of Senator Dickson Effiong Bob on the 11th of June alongside the Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel during the pendency of the suit before my Lord by the said Senator.
Owing to the fact that my colleague Inibehe could not come for that case after he missed his flight, and I was also engaged in a serious pressing matter, we quickly contacted one of our learned friend, Barr. Samuel Udoh to hold brief for us in the case which he did. During the proceedings, Samuel promptly informed the court of our pending motion for recusal, and that same has been served on the claimants’ counsel in court. He pleaded for an adjournment to enable the claimants counsel to respond to the said Motion. My Lord bluntly refused the application for adjournment, stating that the pendency of the motion cannot frustrate the hearing the case. The court then ordered the claimants counsel to call his witness.
Despite stained objection by Samuel to that effect, my Lord adamantly went on with the case. After the evidence of the 1st witness, my Lord ordered Mr. Samuel to Cross examine the witness, but Samuel explained his health predicament to the court and also informed the court that he was only holding brief of Inibehe Effiong, that it’ll tantamount to infraction of the Defendant’s right to fair hearing to continue with the case after a motion challenging my Lord’s power to hear the case has been filed. My Lord in anger then foreclosed the defendant from Cross examining and ordered the claimants counsel to call his second and third witnesses while the Defendant remained foreclosed from Cross examining. After this proceedings, my Lord then imposed another date adjourning the matter to the 29th of June, 2022 wherein we further prepared and filed another Motion on Notice to set aside the proceedings conducted on the said 24th June, 2022 on grounds of breach of fair hearing.
On the 29th of June, 2022 when the matter came up, the court’s hostility continue in another dimension. My Lord demanded that everyone’s phone be seized and switched off by the police. Court further caution Inibehe Effiong to be very careful before he’s sent to prison for contempt. Despite compelling appeal by Inibehe Effiong that the court should take our motion for recusal, my Lord bluntly refused and proceeded with the trial of the case. After the proceedings, the court further imposed 2 dates (27, and 29 of July, 2022) on parties which according to the court, was to enable the claimants conclude his case.
Now, on the 27th of July, 2022 my Lord came inside the court at about 10:00am with so much aggressiveness. My Lord instructed his orderly to bring in two armed policemen inside the court room. Soon after that, my Lord yell at his orderly why it’s taken so long for the armed officers to be brought in. Immediately, the officers well armed with rifles gained entrance into the court. My Lord then declared; gentlemen, I am coming today in anger and I want to say that I will not tolerate any nonsense today from anybody….
The case was called and while the court directed the claimants counsel to put in his witness for Cross examination, Inibehe Effiong promptly rose and reminded the court of the two pending application. My Lord said in reply, that the motion will be taken on a different date so the case proceeded. While Inibehe was cross examining the witness, my Lord interjected and demanded to know the person in a red shirt. The person responded that his name is Saviour Imukudo from premium Times, my Lord quickly directed him to immediately leave the court and also ordered his phone to be seized from him by the armed policemen. It was then my colleague informed the court that the defendant trial is in open court, and that members of the public should be allowed to observe proceedings, however, my Lord insisted that nobody can come inside the court to record proceedings without being permitted by the court.
It was at this juncture Inibehe Effiong made another observation to the court that he has seen two armed police officers with AK47 behind him in the court room, that my Lord should please direct them to step out of the court as their presence was creating fear and hostility to him. My Lord in response said that the armed officers are protecting him. It was then Inibehe made a formal application asking the court to either direct the officers out of court or overruled him.
While Inibehe was still addressing the court, the court was writing and none of us knew that my Lord was writing on my colleague’s committal to prison. Soon after the writing, my Lord raised his head and yell at Inibehe to step out of the court and derobe myself. Surprisingly, Inibehe asked my Lord why and my Lord said I’m sending you to prison. Inibehe in obedience, stepped aside but refused to derobe stating that if he derobe, he won’t be able to address the court. That’s when my Lord pronounced his sentence on my colleague in the most regrettable manner and my colleague was taken to Ikot Ekpene Correctional facility like a common criminal for no just cause.
Please, this is the whole of event characterising this case. All these information are deposed affidavit and filed before my Lord.
Thanks so much for your ceaseless solidarity with us, particularly, my colleague Inibehe Effiong. History indeed shall vindicate the just.
We shall overcome it some day.
Source: Augustine Asuquo Esq.