EXCLUSIVE: Owerri Industrial Court Crisis: Alozie SAN committed gross professional Misconduct – NBA Fact-Finding Committee (SEE FULL REPORT)

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REPORT OF THE FACT FINDING COMMITTEE OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION, OWERRI BRANCH, ON THE REMOTE AND IMMEDIATE CAUSES OF THE CLOSURE OF THE NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COURT OF NIGERIA, OWERRI JUDICIAL DIVISION

 


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  1. 00 BACKGROUND

1.01 Following the closure of the Owerri Judicial Division of National Industrial Court of Nigeria, the Nigerian Bar Association, Owerri Branch, in the emergency meeting jointly held by members of the J. I. Ogamba, Esq. led Executive Committee and the Advisory Committee of the Branch on Friday, the 17th day of June, 2022, constituted a three (3) man Committee and designated same as “Fact Finding Committee on the Remote and Immediate Causes of the Closure of the NICN Owerri Judicial Division” (The Committee). The Committee’s term of reference was to inquire into the facts resulting in the closure of the Owerri Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) and make recommendations accordingly. This Committee comprised:;

  1. ) Chidi B. Nworka, Esq. (Chairman)
  2. ) U. N. Nwakaeti, Esq. (Member)
  • ) Chinedu Agu, Esq. (Secretary)

1.02 Subsequently^ there was a democratic transition in the leadership of NBA Owerri Branch which saw to the emergence of the D. U. Alinnor, Esq. led administration. This new administration sometime later, following the voluntarily withdrawal by Mr. Chinedu Agu of his membership of the Committee, re-constituted the membership of same. Consequently, the Committee now comprised:

  1. ) Chidi B. Nworka, Esq. (Chairman)
  2. ) U. N. NWakaeti, Esq. ‘ (Member)
  3. ) Kingsley C. Ehujuo, Esq., ACArb (Secretary)

 

2.00 ACTION

2.01 In the course of its activities/facts finding, the Committee interviewed the following persons:

  • Mrs. Joy Iwuchukwu – Divisional Registrar (DR), NICN, Owerri Judicial Division.
  • His Lordship, Hon. Justice I. S. Galadima – Judge, NICN, Owerri Division.
  • Chief C. O. C. Akaolisa, Esq. – the Honourable Attorney General of Imo State.
  • M. Alozie, SAN – External Solicitor to the Imo State Government (particularly on garnishee matters).
  • K. C. O. Njemanze, SAN – Counsel to Prince Eze Madumere.
  • S. E. Ibechem, Esq. – Director of Civil Litigation, Ministry of Justice, Imo State.
  • Mrs. Ijeoma Adimiu – Assistant Chief State Counsel, Ministry of Justice, Imo State.
  • CP Mohammed Ahmed Barde – Commissioner of Police, Imo State Police Command.
  • Four members of Staff of NICN Owerri Judicial Division that were assaulted, arrested and detained by some State actors in league with Imo State Police Command, namely:
  • ) Chima Emeka Ndukwe
  • ) Akoma Jeremiah
  • ) Ikedi Amadi
  • ) Nze Moses Chigozie

 

Recap of the Interview with the DR:

2.03 In our interview with Mrs. Joy Iwuchukwu (DR, NICN, Owerri Division), she recounted that Suit No.: NICN/OW/16/2019 – Prince Eze Madumere v. The Governor of Imo State & 2 Ors was filed sometime in 2019. To her knowledge, the said action was duly served hut the Defendants neglected, ignored or refused to defend same until judgment was delivered. Prior to the delivery of judgment; the Defendants put up some appearances through their Counsel, the Attorney General of Imo State and Mrs. Ijeoma Adinnu and prayed for adjournment^ severally, to enable them explore the option of out of Court settlement. Obviously, the parties were unable to resolve amicably after series of attempts at settlement. Yet the Defendants neglected to file any defence. Judgment was delivered in the matter on the 1st day of June, 2021.

 

2.04 In October, 2021^ K. C. O. Njemanze, SAN (Counsel to the Plaintiff/Judgment Creditor) commenced garnishee proceedings. Again, the Defendants/Judgment Debtors came up with prayers for adjournment to explore settlement, this time, through their External Solicitor (L. M. Alozie, SAN). The Honourable Court again encouraged the proposed settlement and granted series of adjournments in respect thereof. This latter attempt at settlement yet again turned out futile.

2.05 The DR stated that L. M. Alozie, SAN came in to represent the Defendants/Judgment Debtors at the level of garnishee proceedings. After several adjournments to enable the parties settle, the Learned Silk filed the following applications:

  1. ) Motion to set aside the default judgment.
  2. ) Motion to set aside the garnishee order nisi.
  3. ) Notice of preliminary objection challenging the competence of the garnishee proceedings.

2.06 The application to set aside the default judgment was heard and dismissed on the 10th day of May, 2022. The application to set aside the garnishee order nisi was heard and dismissed on the 27th day of May, 2022 whereupon the order nisi was made absolute. The Hon. Court gave the Defendants/Judgment Debtors Seventy-Two (72) hours to comply with judgment of the Court.

2.07 Suffice it to state that on the 25th day of May; 2022, at about 02:45pm, one of L. M. Alozie’s juniors, one Mrs. Eke Ogoamaka, was at the Court’s Registry to file a Notice of Appeal against the Ruling dismissing the application to set aside the default judgment. The said Counsel said her instruction was to file and dump the process in the Court’s Registry without making any arrangement for service of same. The Registrar refused to accept the process for two reasons:

(a.) that the Judge had directed that they should not accept any process relating to the matter from either party;

(b.) that they will not accept a process intended to be filed without arrangement for service. That they should either undertake to serve same or make arrangements for the Court’s Bailiff to serve the other party.

 

2.08 This position was quickly reported to L. M. Alozie, SAN by his said junior prompting the learned silk to call the DR and informed her that he had already spoken to his Lordship on phone, who directed that the process be accepted for filing. The DR responded that she would rather receive that instruction directly from her Boss, the Judge. At this point, L. M. Alozie, SAN shouted at the DR saying that they are all criminals in that office including His Lordship and that he knows that they were “doing business” with peoples’ cases and judgments, and that he will deal with all of them. The DR responded saying: “L. M. Alozie, you are the worst criminal in Imo State”. They now went ahead to sling and exchange insults. After the war of words, it was said that L. M. Alozie, SAN called the Judge again, who then directed that the Registry should accept the Notice of Appeal for filing.

2.09 It was reported by the DR that following the expiration of the demised Seventy-Two (72) hours, the Plaintifl/Judgment Creditor applied for a writ of execution which was granted by His Lordship, I. S. Galadima, on the 1st day of June, 2022. On the 2nd day of June, 2022, the Court’s Sheriffs proceeded to seal Fidelity Bank and Zenith Bank in execution of the judgment of the Court. The next day, 3/06/2022, Fidelity Bank complied with the terms of the order absolute, as it affects it.

  • It was further said that on the same 3/06/2022, four members of staff of the NICN, Owerri Division, were transiting in a branded vehicle of the NICN on an official errand. At about the same time, heavily armed Police men numbering over Fifty (50) in league with one Declan Emelumba (Commissioner for Information, Imo State), Chinasa Nwaneri (S.A., Special Duties to the Imo State Governor) and their hirelings/thugs had arrived the premises of Zenith Bank along Bank Road, Owerri, to unseal the Bank, ft was in the process of unsealing the Bank that the said Chinasa Nwaneri and their hirelings, upon sighting the NICN branded vehicle induced the Police to stop the vehicle, impounded same and arrest the said members of staff of the NICN. Upon their arrest, Chinasa Nwaneri and one of the Police men assaulted two of the staff of the Court while Chinasa Nwaneri kept shouting: “where is Joy?”
  • The arrested members of staff of National Industrial Court, Owerri Division were taken to the Commissioner of Police at Imo State Police Headquarters. The Commissioner of Police equally demanded for the whereabout of the DR and directed that they be detained at the Anti-Kidnapping unit of the Imo State Police Command on the allegation that “they are the boys who went to steal State Government money domiciled in Zenith Bank”. The said staffwere detained from about 02:00pm till 11:00pm of same day. On same 3rd day of June, 2022; the Police orderly and security details of His Lordship, Hon. Justice I. S. Galadima were withdrawn on the orders of the Commissioner of Police.
  • We were also informed by the DR that when the President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria got wind of what happened, particularly of the withdrawal of the Judge’s security details, His Lordship called his brother Judge of the Owerri Judicial Division (Hon. Justice I. S. Galadima) and asked him to immediately leave his residence for his own safety. The latter left his official quarters, slept in a Hotel and flew to Abuja the next day. The President also directed the staff of the Court to stay away from the Court. On 7/06/2022, a mob carrying placards protested in front of the NICN Judge’s residence, Owerri, and set vehicle tyres on fire in the course of the protest (videos of which we were shown). Shortly thereafter, the President of the NICN officially announced the closure of the Owerri Division of the NICN.

 

J Recap of the interview with K. C. O. Njemanzej SAN

  • On 22ndday of June, 2022, the Committee met with K. C. O Njemanze, SAN (Counsel to Prince Eze Madumere). The Learned Silk narrated all that happened in the substantive matter. How the other party severally asked for adjournment to explore settlement and he never opposed any; he said one year elapsed between judgment and the garnishee proceedings which was intended to see whether the parties could reach any compromise. He confirmed substantially the narrative of the DR already captured above. Asked whether his Learned Brother Silk ever informed him of his intention to speak with His Lordship concerning the matter they were conducting before the Court, his answer was in the negative.

 

Recap of the 1stInterview with Chief C. O. C‘ Akaolisa, Esq. and L. M. Alozie, SAN

On same 22ndJune, 2022, the Committee met with Chief C. O. C Akaolisa, Esq., the Honourable Attorney General of Imo State (HAG) and L. M. Alozie, SAN, in the Chambers of the Attorney General at the Ministry of Justice, Imo State Secretariat Complex, Owerri. The HAG confirmed that they tried settlement and that he told Prince Eze Madumere to forfeit some of his claims but he refused.

The HAG said he set up a committee comprising core civil servants from the office of the Head of Service and Civil Service Commission and requested them to advise him on whether the former Deputy Governor (Eze Prince Madumere) who was away from office due to his impeachment was entitled to tour duty allowance and imprest. That the committee wrote back to him, advising that somebody who was not actively in office is not entitled to those two heads of claim. Armed with that, he (HAG) again approached the Governor who said if Madumere is not prepared to forgo those heads of claim, then he should forget it.

When asked why the Government did not defend the action when it became clear that settlement had broken down, he said: “Mrs. Adinnu who was officially handling the case could not pay the default fees for late filing”. When it became clear that settlement was not achievable, the Government decided to “craft something” to defeat the judgment of the National Industrial Court. According to him, it was the “Fifth Columnists” that protested and did the bum fire at the front of the Judge’s residence. He said further that the Government used the High Court ex-parte order to unseal Zenith Bank. He also added that the Governor had directed that all garnishee proceedings affecting the Imo State Government be transferred to L. M. Alozie, SAN.

On his part, L. M. Alozie; SAN said he paid Four Hundred and Seven Thousand, Five Huhdred Naira (N407,500.00) default fees in the course of filing his application to set aside the default judgment. He also filed a motion to set aside the garnishee order nisiand a Preliminary Objection to the garnishee proceedings on the ground of failure to obtain the Attorney General’s consent. He confirmed that during the post judgment applications afore-said, His Lordship (Hon. Justice I. S. Galadima) advised them to explore settlement. That he wrote to the Governor respecting the settlement but due to absence of the Governor from the State, the letter he was supposed to write to K. C. O. Njemanze, SAN was not written as he waited endlessly for the Governor’s correspondence/position on the issue of settlement. However, the Committee was hot shown a copy of the said letter.

The Learned Silk said that his application to set aside the default judgment was refused and that the Judge directed him to argue his application to set aside the garnishee order nisi.This application was also refused. The preliminary objection was dismissed. He also said that when his Junior went to file the Notice of Appeal against the Court’s refusal to set aside the default judgment, his Junior was told that the Judge instructed them not to accept any process from him till the order nisi is made  When he heard this, he called the Judge who admitted that it was his directive. He told  the Judge that what he wanted to file was a Notice of Appeal against the Ruling dismissing his application to set aside the default judgment. At this point, the Judge said he could go ahead and file. His Junior went back to file the said Notice of Appeal but the DR refused to accept it. He then called the DR and told her that His Lordship said they can file. According to him, the DR hesitated and said “no, I will take instructions from my Oga and not you”. This got him infuriated and he poured vituperations on the DR, saying amongst others, that “they are criminals; they are not doing justice but business”. According to the Learned Silk, he and the DR insulted themselves.

Alozie, SAN, added that they were in receipt of a letter from Zenith Bank dated May 26, 2022 and titled: “Notification of Garnishee Order Nisi on the Account of Imo State Government in Suit No.: NICN/OW/19M/2021 -Prince Eze Madumere v. The Governor of Imo State & 2 Ors. (Zenith Bank Pic as Garnishee)” wherein Zenith Bank wrote to urge the State Government to take urgent steps to challenge the garnishee proceedings or otherwise the Bank will be left with no option but to pay over the garnishee sum to the judgment Creditor should the Court make the order nisi, absolute,against the Bank. It was at this point that the Government had to scramble and file the processes before His Lordship, Hon. Justice M. E. Nwagboso of the Imo State High Court. However, he dissociated himself from the processes filed at the Imo State High Court in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022 – Attorney General of Imo State v. Zenith Bank Pic & 7 Ors. Interestingly, he said he was not ready to lose his wig and gown for any client. He stated that it was one Fintan, Esq. (a Yoruba lawyer, whose surname he had forgotten) that drafted, signed and filed the processes. He promised to supply us with the full particulars of the said lawyer but this he never did.

Recap of the Interview with the Victims of the Incident

The Committee on 28thJuly, 2022, also had a joint meeting with the victims of the incident who identified themselves as Chima Emeka Ndukwe, Mr. Akoma Jei-eiiliah, Mr. Ikedi Amadi and Nze Moses Chigozie. Present in this meeting also was Mrs. Joy Iwuchukwu (DR NICN, Owerri Division). They all corroborated themselves in saying that they were on official errand in the branded Hyundai ilO vehicle of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Owerri, bearing Federal Government plate number, when they were accosted and arrested around Government House roundabout, Owerri by a legion of armed Police men (iittmbering over fifty), in the company of Declan Emeluinba, Chinasa Nwaneri and their hirelings/thugs. Mr. Akoma was beaten up by the Police and Chinasa Nwaneri. Also, Nze Moses Chigozie (the Driver) was assaulted by the Police and Chinasa Nwaneri and his said hirelings when he refused to move the vehicle to the direction of the State Police Headquarters. Their assailants continued demanding that they should provide Joy, the DR. They narrated how they were taken before the Commissioner of Police who equally demanded for the whereabouts of Joy, the DR, before he directed that they be taken to the Anti-Kidnapping Unit where they were undressed to their boxers and detained from about 02:00pm to 11:00pm of same day. Their vehicle bearing the insignia of the NICN was also impounded and detained along with them.

The DR denied the allegation that they charge and receive any percentage of the judgment sum from Judgment Creditors for levying execution. She gave examples of some other executions they have carried out for some other lawyers including L. M. Alozie, SAN for which they charged no such percentage or foes. She further revealed as follows:

That the said Notice of Appeal brought by L. M. Alozie, SAN was eventually filed and dumped in the Court’s Registry without service and has remained abandoned in the Registry till date.

That the Judge had mentioned to her hearing that the Governor of Imo State (His Excellency, Sen. Hope Uzodinma) had threatened him to the effect that: “if he was not careful in giving judgments against the Imo State Government, the thing that happens in Imo State will happen to him”. Based on this threat, a former Judge of the NICN Owerri Division, had advised the present Judge not to return to Imo State after such a threat coming froiri the highest of quarters.

 

Summary of our Discussion with His Lordship Hon. Justice I. S. Galadima

Upon request, the DR provided us with His Lordship’s phone number. When we called him (Hon. Justice Galadima), His Lordship confirmed to us that indeed, what the DR told us was what happened. He said he got the call from one of the SSAs’ to the Imo State Governor. That he reported this to the President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria. Asked about the instruction not to accept processes for filing from the parties, His Lordship said he never gave such instruction.

His Lordship also revealed that his Police orderly called him that fateful day (3/06/2022) to inform him that he has been withdrawn with immediate effect. Because of the threat afore-said and the withdrawal of his Police orderly and security details, the President of the NICN asked him to leave Imo State immediately and return to Abuja.

 

The 2ndInterview with the Attorney General of Imo State

On the 28thday of July, 2022, we returned and re-interviewed Chief C. O. C. Akaolisa, Esq., the Honourable Attorney General of Imo State. He was alone this time. The HAG revealed that it was L. M. Alozie, SAN that prepared all the processes that were filed at the Imo State High Court in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022 – Attorney General of Imo State V. Zenith Bank Pic & 7 Ors. At the time, he was sick such that he could not even attend the APC National Convention in Abuja. That S. E. Ibechem, Esq. (Director of Civil Litigation, Imo State Ministry of Justice) was asked to sign the processes. He revealed that to the best of his knowledge; it was Chinasa Nwaneri that planned and organised the protest with L. M. Alozie, SAN in the latter’s law firm. He also stated that the Imo State Government had paid L. M. Alozie, SAN all his fees in respect of all these matters.

He disclosed that he met with the President of the National Industrial Court on 30/06/2022 and gave his assurances in writing on the security of the staff of the NICN in Imo State as requested by His Lordship. However, the expected assurances for the safety of the Judge to be given by the Chief Executive of the State, His Excellency the Governor of Imo State, was yet to be given as the State Security Council meeting was yet to be convened.

The 2ndInterview with L‘ M. Alozie, SAN

On 29/07/2022, we met with L. M. Alozie, SAN in his office alone. The Learned Silk stated that he did not argue the application before Hon. Justice Nwagboso. That he did not prepare the processes and does not know where same was prepared and repeated his statement that he was not prepared to stake his wig and gown for any client. That he advised the HAG against going to the State High Court. He said that the HAG was hostile towards him thinking that he was aiming to take over his job and replace him as HAG; that the HAG gets 20% (twenty percent) of every fee paid to him for the matters he was doing for Government. He denied knowledge of the processes filed by Zenith Bank Pic before Hon. Justice Nwagboso (in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022 – Attorney General of Imo State v; Zenith Bank Pic & 7 Ors.) wherein his name and address were stated as the address for service for the Plaintiff. He said that putting his name as the PlaintifPs address for service must be out of mischief. He admitted having previously executed a judgment of the National Industrial Court and nothing was demanded from him neither did his client report any of such illicit demands.

He re-confirmed that he and the DR insulted each other; that she even boasted of having nearly slapped Nnawuchi, SAN when he was the Attorney General. That a former Commissioner told him how they share judgment sum 50:50 with the DR. We requested for the identity of the said Commissioner but he declined to reveal same.

He said that his Lordship confirmed to him that he gave the instruction that no process from him should be accepted for filing. That it was after he spoke with the Judge that His Lordship now permitted that only the Notice of Appeal should be accepted for filing. He denied instructing his Junior to file the process without serving same; that rather, the DR gave conditions that they should deposit N10,000.00 (Ten Thousand Naira) for each Respondent to be served but he did not have that kind of money. He maintained that he knows nothing about the protest and burn fire in front of His Lordship’s residence as well as the unsealing of Zenith Bank. In fact, he said he was in Abuja for a pre-election matter from Adamawa State.

 

Subsequent Discussion with the Judge

On our later discussion with His Lordship (Hon. Justice Galadima), on phone, he clarified his earlier position and stated that he had in fact instructed his staff not to accept for filing any process relating to the particular Ruling he was writing at the time which borders on whether the order nisiought to be made  That he believed his staff must have mistaken that directive to mean not accepting any process relating to the matter generally; and that was why he later instructed them to accept the Notice of Appeal from L. M. Alozie, SAN.

 

Interview with Mrs Ijeoma Adinnu

On the 5thday of May, 2022, we met with Mrs. Ijeoma Adinnu (Assistant Chief State Counsel, Ministiy of Justice, Imo State). She recounted that the substantive matter at the NICN was initially assigned to one Osuoha, Esq. who prepared a proposed statement of defence but did not file same. When she was assigned the matter, the default fee had already accumulated and was assessed at about Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira (N250,000.00) only. That the Solicitor General of Itiio State refused to pay the default fee from his imprest account and she could not pay same with her personal funds. That she eventually got a directive to hand over everything pertaining to the case to L. M. Alozie, SAN, which she did.

 

Interview with S. E. Ibechem, Esq.

On 6/08/2022, we met with S. E. Ibechem, Esq. (Director, Civil Litigation, Ministry of Justice, Imo State) who narrated how the HAG, Imo State called and directed him to co-operate with the Learned Silk, L. M. Alozie. Subsequently, L. M. Alozie, SAN called him and requested him to come to his (Alozie’s) office. When he got there, the Learned Silk presented to him all the processes he had already prepared in his (Ibechem’s) name in respect of Suit No.: HOW/590/2022 – Attorney General of Imo State v. Zenith Bank Pic & 7 Ors. and asked him to sign, which he did. Alozie, SAN, took him in his car and drove him to the Imo State High Court where they filed the said processes at the Court’s Registry on 2/06/2022, to wit:

 

  1. Originating Summons in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022 – Attorney General of Imo State v. Zenith Bank Pic & 7 Ors.
  2. Motion on Notice for interlocutory injunction in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022
  3. Motion Ex-parte for interim injunction in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022.

The matter was assigned to Hon. Justice M. E. Nwagboso and fixed for hearing on 3/06/2022. The motion ex-parte was argued by Mr. Ibechem on same 3/06/2022. Mr. Ibechem further revealed that on 3/06/2022, it was L. M. Alozie, SAN, that drove him in his (Alozie’s) car to the Court, dropped him and left. He concluded that after arguing the ex-parte application which was granted as prayed, he did not push for the preparation or enrollment of the ex-parte order of Nwagboso J. and does not know who did and what followed thereafter.

 

Interview with CP Mohammed Ahmed Barde, Comhiissioner of Police; Imo State

On the 24/06/2022, the Committee’s letter of same date, captioned: “Request for ail Iiiterview with You” was received by the office of the Commissioner of Police (CP). However, due to some administrative lapses, the meeting with the CP was delayed for a while but eventually held. Present during our meeting with the CP are the DCP (Deputy Commissioner of Police) and the A/C Ops., (Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations). In the interview, the CP denied withdrawing the Police orderly and security details of the Judge. He said that rather, the Police Offiecrs attached to the Judge and Court were merely invited to inquire from them whether they were the ones that went for the sealing of the Banks. He insisted that the execution (sealing of Banks) carried out by the Sheriff of the National Industrial Court was illegal. He was unshaken in his conviction that the said execution of the orders of a Court of competent jurisdiction was illegal. This is so because in his view, no application was made for Police protection during the said execution but that he heard Police men were involved in the execution. He disclosed that the AIG (Assistant Inspector General of Police) and IG (Inspector General of Police) called him and were on his neck to know if he was the one that authorized the use of Police men for sealing the Banks. After those calls, the CP said he had to call his own A/C Ops. who said he did not authorize such. They got information that Police men were used for the execution. Having heard that Police orderlies were used, he invited the orderlies/security details of the Judge/Court to interview them on whether they were the ones that went for the execution and sealing of the Bank.

In the words of the CP: “when they now brought to me the High Court order unsealing the Bank, I now gave them Police men to go and unseal the Bank. While unsealing the Bank, my men on the identification of the ‘Government House people’accosted, arrested and brought to me ‘those said to be the people who sealed the Bank and want to steal public fund in the Bank’. I assigned the matter to Anti-kidnapping to investigate”.

 

RECAP OF THE 3rdINTERVIEW WITH THE DIVISIONAL REGISTRAR (DR)

In view of the allegation made by L. M. Alozie; SAN, during our 2nd interview with him, the Committee deemed it necessary to confront the DR of the NICN, Owerri Division (Mrs. Joy Iwuchukwu) with what the Learned Silk alleged. Her response to the allegation that she set a condition for Alozie, SAN depositing the sum of N10,000.00 (Ten Thousand Naira) for each of the Respondents to be served with the Notice of Appeal was as follows:

  •  That there was only one Respondent, Prince Eze Madumere.
  • That they have never charged more than Nl,000.00 (One Thousand Naira) for the service of any process within Owerri.
  • That her office in fact intervenes in the service fees that Bailiffs charge in order to avoid exploitation of lawyers and litigants by Bailiffs.
  • That in this case, the issue of service fee did not even arise before the war of words between herself and L. M. Alozie, SAN.

2.36 On the allegation of boasting of almost slapping N. A. Nnawuchi, SAN when he was Attorney General, she said there is no way she could have made such a boast because there was no reason at all for such; that there has never been any altercation at any time between herself and Nnawuchi, SAN. That she met Nnawuchi, SAN for the first time towards the end of his tenure as Attorney General, in November 2019. That meeting was to hand over to him the Books meant for the Government of Imo State launched in honour of His Lordship, Hon. Justice Adejumo who then retired as the President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria. That the relationship between her and N. A. Nnawuchi, SAN and members of the Learned Silk’s office has remained most cordial ever since.

3.00 Documents Examined

3.01 In the course of the Committee’s enquiries, we obtained and critically x- rayed the following documents:

  1. Letter from Zenith Bank Pic to the Hon. Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Imo State dated 26/05/2022 and titled: “Notification of Garnishee Order Nisi on the Account of Imo State Government in Suit No.: NICN/OW/19M/2021 – Prince Eze Madumere v. The Governor of Imo State & 2 Ors (Zenith Bank Pic as Garnishee).
  2.  Certified true copy of the Originating Summons in Suit No.: HOW/59O/2022 – Attorney General of Imo State v. Zenith Bank Pic & 7 Ors; filed on 2/06/2022.
  3. Certified true copy of the Motion on Notice for interlocutory injunction in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022 – Attorney General of Imo State v. Zenith Bank Pic filed on 2/06/2022.
  4. Certified tru6 copy of the Motion Ex-Parte or interim injunction in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022 filed on 2/06/2022.
  5. Certified true copy of the Record of proceedings of 3rdJune, 2022 in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022.
  6. Certified true copy of the Motion on Notice filed on 7/06/2022 by Zenith Bank Pic (1st Defendant) in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022.
  7. Certified true copy of the Affidavit of Facts filed on 7/06/2022 by Zenith Bank Pic (1st Defendant) in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022.

Annexed as Exhibits in items ‘vi’ and ‘vii’ above are the following:

  1. Certified true copy of the Affidavit to Show Cause of the Garnishee filed on 23/11/2021 in Suit No.: NICN/OW/19M/2021 – Prince Eze Madumere v. The Governor of Imo State & 3 Ors.
  2. Certified true copy of the Enrolled Order Absolute in Suit No.: NICN/OW/19M/2021.
  3. Certified true copy of the Order of Court made on 3/06/2022 by his Lordship, Hon. Justice M. E. Nwagboso in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022.
  4. Certified true copy of the record of proceedings of 17th June, 2022 in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022.
  5. Certified true copy of the Notice of Appeal in Suit No.: NICN/OW/16/2019 filed on 25/05/2022.

3.02 For ease of reference, the documents listed above are hereto attached as annexures a, b,d, f, gi – giii, and j, respectively.

4.00 FINDINGS

4.01 After a critical analysis of the foregoing facts and documents, the Committee finds as follows:

The Imo State Government [who were Defendants in Suit No.: NICN/OW/16/2019 – Prince Eze Madumere v; THfe Governor of Imo State & 2 Ors and Judgment Debtors in Suit No.: NICN/OW/19M/2021 – Prince Eze Madumere v; The Governor of Into State & 2 Ors (Zenith Bank Pic as Garnishee)] were grossly negligent with regards to the conduct of that case which led to their running out of time to file their defence such that the default fees (for non compliance with the Rules of Court on prescribed time-frame for filing of defence) accumulated up to the tune of Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira (N250,000.00) only. Most appalling is the fact that the Imo State Government through its Ministry of Justice could not afford to pay this sum of N250,000.00 only and shamelessly gave same as their reason for not presenting a defence even after it became clear that there will be no amicable settlement of that matter.

The conduct of the Imo State Government (Defendants/Judgment Debtors) during the prosecution of the garnishee proceedings just as that exhibited during the prosecution of the substantive suit leaves much to be desired. Having failed to obtain any favourable decision in both the substantive suit and garnishee proceedings, the only legal option open to it was to proceed on appeal to challenge those decisions.

The Defendants/Judgment Debtors rather chose the option of trickery and illegality, to wit: pitting its own High Court, a Court of co-ordinate jurisdiction, against the valid decisions of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Owerri Division. This is a gross abuse of the judicial process. The trickery and subterfuge here is quickly revealed by:

The indecent haste with which Suit No.: HOW/590/2022 – Attorney General of Imo State v. Zenith Bank Plc (State High Court suit) was filed on June 2nd, 2022, assigned and heard the very next day (June 3rdj 2022). It is quite strange and defies record time practice and convention of the Imo State High Courts Owerri Division for a matter to be filed; processed, assigned, heard iri the open Court, order produced, signed by the Judge and executed all within 24 (twenty four) hours.

The parties and title in the originating summons of the State High Court suit, whereas ostensibly seeming not to relate to the matter at the National industrial Court (Suit Nos.: NICN/OW/16/20i9 and NICN/OW/l^M/2021) or the parties thereto; the prayer sought in the Ex-parte application thereof was craftily couched with the manifest intent to frustrate the judgment and orders of the National Industrial Court, to wit:

An interim order of Court restraining the 1st, 2nd; 3rd, 4th and 5th Defendants’ Banks froiii paying out or transferring any funds from the accounts of Government of Imo State; including the Federal Accounts and Allocation Committee Account of the Imo State Government or any other fund housing the salary of workers in Imo State and monies in any Imo State Government Account to any third party Whatsoever including any of the 6th, 7th and 8th Defendants/Respondents without the due mandate of the Plaintiff being the Account holders, pending the determination of the motion on notice.

This is more so when one considers the outcry of Zenith Bank in its letter dated 26thMay 2022 calling on the Government of Imo State to take “urgent steps” to challenge the garnishee proceedings in the absence of which it will be constrained to pay over the garnishee sum of 1,970,666,584.68 (One Billion, Nine Hundred and Seventy Million, Six Hundred and Sixty Six Thousand, Five Hundred and Eighty Four Naira, Sixty Eight Kobo) from the funds in the accounts of Imo State Government in satisfaction of the judgment/garnishee sum should the Court make the Order Nisi Absolute against the Bank. It is important to re-state that the said Order Nisi was made Absolute on 27th May, 2022. The Banks (Fidelity Bank and Zenith Bank) were sealed on 2nd June, 2022 pursuant to the said judgment/orders of the NICN; and, on same 2nd June, 2022, the State High Court suit and applications afore-said, were filed.

The lightening speed with which the matter was crafted, filed, processed, assigned, heard and orders of the High Court of Imo State procured and utilized to unseal Zenith Bank on the 3rd day of June, 2022 is to say the least, suspect.

The fact of the originator and author of the processes in the State High Court suit L. M. Alozie, SAN, preparing same in the name of another lawyer when he is officially Counsel to the Plaintiff; then his vehemence in denying any knowledge or preparation of same even going as fat as throwing up a fictitious name as the lawyer that prepared it and declaring not only that he advised the Attorney General that it was wrong to do so, but also declaring that he will not “stake his wig and gown” by adopting such a wrongful procedure shows clearly the deliberate intent to use same to pervert the cause of justice.

The Committee observed that the instruction given by His Lordship, Hon. Justice I. S. Galadima, to the DR of NICN, Owerri Division, not to accept for filing any process that would impact on the Ruling he was writing is not supported by any known Rule of that Court. The Committee found no Rule of Court that provides that filing of any process by parties to a suit is subject to the express permission of the Judge first sought and obtained. Such instructions not supported by law are quite capable of being misinterpreted and precipitating desperate and unsavory conduct on the part of the recipients of such instructions as indeed happened in this case.

The Committee further observed with regret that the conduct of the Learned Silk, L. M. Alozie, in this whole saga is reprehensible and condemnable for the following reasons:

M. Alozie, SAN by his own statement admitted that he contacted and spoke with the Judge of the National Industrial Court to discuss a matter he was conducting before the said Judge without informing and taking along the Counsel on the other side of the matter (that is; his Learned Brother Silk; K. C. O. Njemanze, SAN); a conduct in utter breach of the express provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

The altercation and trading of insults between the learned silk and the DR of the National Industrial Courts Owerri Division which altercation was incited by the learned silk as he admitted, is a conduct unbecoming of a lawyer of any standing. The Committee observed also that the Learned Silk seized every opportunity to level allegations against the person of the Divisional Registrar, Mrs. Joy Iwuchukwu, which allegations we found to be maliciously false and unfounded.

It is indeed reprehensible that any lawyer let alone a Senior Advocate of Nigeria would contrive to pit two Courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction against each other by using the orders of one to frustrate the orders of the other. The repulsive illegality and gross abuse of the judicial process was hot lost on the Learned Silk; hence his repeated avowal that he will not stake his wig and gown to indulge in any such illegality for any client, and that he advised the Attorney General against it.

The Learned Silk was so ashamed of this illegality and gross abuse of the judicial process that he twice sought to distance himself from it by denying knowledge of the procedure and processes brought before the State High Court as well as preparing same. He even threw a red herring by naming another lawyer, one Fintaj Esq. as the person who prepared the processes. Quite the contrary, the truth of the matter is that he actually crafted all the processes in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022 in the name of another lawyer rather than his own; procured the Director of Civil Litigation, Ministry of Justice, Imo State (S. E. Ibechem, Esq.) to sign those processes; drove Mr. Ibechem in his own car to the Court premises on 2ndday of June, 2022, to file the processes and the next day; 3rd June, 2022, he also drove Mr. Ibechem to the Imo State Court, Owerri dropped him thereat to argue the Motion Ex-parte and left.

It is noteworthy that upon the successful frustration of the orders of the National Industrial Court in Suit Nos.: NICN/OW/16/2019 and NICN/OW/19M/2021 vide orders ex-parte in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022, the Plaintiff in the State High Court matter never argued the Motion on Notice nor the Originating Summons but rather withdrew the entire Suit No.: HOW/590/2022: This can be gleaned from the certified true copy of the record of proceedings of 17th June, 2022 in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022.

The Committee had no doubt that the Government of Imo State and its Counsel, L. M. Alozie, SAN, adopted the most unprofessional, unconscionable, undemocratic and reprehensible abuse of the judicial process in dealing with the judgment and orders of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Owerri Division.

It is most condemnable that the Government of Imo State which negligently failed to utilize the legal opportunities at its disposal at the time, to defend the action brought against it in Suit No.: NICN/OW/16/2019 or proceed on appeal against same, rather resorted in addition to the illegal judicial tricks and subterfuge afore-said, to a most reprehensible act of extra judicial self help and impunity to intimidate the Court and the person of Hon. Justice I. S. Galadima, the Divisional Registrar (DR) and other officers of the National Industrial Court. The acts specifically referred to include:

Prompting the Imo State Commissioner of Police to withdraw the orderlies and security details of His Lordship; organizing touts and hoodlums to protest; carrying placards and burning vehicle tyres in front of the official residence of His Lordship, thereby exposing the Judge and his residence to the danger of physical mob attack.

When considered alongside the volatile security situation or the notorious activities of the “unknown gun men” in Imo State and the threat by the Chief Security Officer of the State to the effect that if the Judge continues to give judgment against the Imo State Government, “what happens in Imo State will happen to him”, it becomes inescapably clear that Imo State Government employed every unlawful means to frustrate the valid judgment and orders of a duly constituted Court of law, especially, the intimidation of a Judicial Officer in the discharge of his lawful duties. Little wonder therefore, that the Government of Imo State has till date neglected to give to the President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria a Security Council undertaking guaranteeing the safety of the Judge and staff of the NICN; Owerri Division as requested by His Lordship.

The Committee found no veracity or merit in the allegation by L. M. Alozie, SAN, that the DR of the NICN charges money (a percentage of the judgment sum) as inducement for the levying of execution of judgments of the Court. This is so because not only did the Learned Silk fail to substantiate this allegation, he also failed to disclose his source of the information but rather confirmed that he had had the same DR levy execution of a judgment he obtained in that Court without either himself or his client being charged, in his own words: “such illegal fees”.

It should be noted that the Commissioner of Police erroneously labeled the sealing of the Banks in execution of a subsisting judgment and orders of the National Industrial Court as “illegal” based on his belief that the Police were not legally procured to accompany the staff of the NICN on that execution. According to hitiij neither himself nor the A/C Ops. authorized the deployment of Police Officers (if any) to such duty. With due respect to the CP, this Committee knows of no law that provides that a Sheriff or Deputy Sheriff of a competent Court of law must be accompanied by Police Officers in the execution of a Court’s judgment/orders. Giving same as his reason for “inviting” for questioning the orderlies and security details of the Judge, was not only wrong but also untrue. Those orderlies were actually simply withdrawn from their duties.

The Committee found as a fact that the Imo State Commissioner of Police, CP Mohammed Ahmed Barde, was complicit in the deliberate frustration of the orders of the NICN as well as the harassment and intimidation of the Judge and staff of the Court when viewed against the prism of the following:

The withdrawal of His Lordship’s orderlies was a calculated and deliberated exposure of his Lordship to danger, In fact, this enabled the mob action at the Judge’s residence to go unchallenged.

The arrest and detention of the four members of staff of the said Court is not only illegal but also a further act of intimidation of that Court as an entity.

The claim that he sent his men to carry out the orders of the State High Court is false in that the said High Court never ordered the unsealing of Zenith Bank which had been sealed in execution of the judgment/orders of the NICN. The order of the State High Court was specific and limited to directing/restraining the Banks not to pay out or transfer any funds from the accounts of the Imo State Government to any third party whatsoever. (See the certified true copy of the Order of Court made on 3/06/2022 by His Lordship. Hon. Justice M. E. Nwagboso in Suit No.: HOW/590/2022).

The arrest, assault, dehumanizing treatment and detention of the four members of staff of the NICN, Owerri Division and the impounding of the official vehicle of the NICN is a most condemnable act of brazen impunity and intimidation. It is also illegal as well as an actionable wrong against the assaulted staff afore-mentioned.

5.00 RECOMMENDATIONS

5.01 It is hoped that by now, tempers and frayed nerves must have calmed down enough all round to enable a progressive and auspicious resolution of the current impasse. Accordingly, the Committee hereby recommends as follows:

The Chief Executive/Security Officer of Imo State, His Excellency Sen. Hope Uzodinma should as a matter of urgency convey to the President of the NICN the unreserved guarantee and assurance of the safety of the Judge of

the NICN, the Divisional Registrar and all other staff of that Court in order not to strangulate any further the justice delivery machinery of the NICN nor impede the immediate resumption and smooth running of that Court.

The Committee condemns the ignoble role played in this whole saga by the Commissioner of Police, Imo State (CP Mohammed Ahmed Barde) and hereby calls on the Police Controlling Authorities to FORTHWITH caution the Imo State Police Command to exercise greater restraint and observe due diligence and professionalism in the discharge of its duties. It should be warned to desist from lending itself as a willing tool to the State Executive arm in the execution or prosecution of unlawful acts.

We call on the generality of the Nigerian Bar Association, both at the Branch and National levels, as well as the Chief Judge of Imo State to assiduously pursue the peaceful resolution of this impasse and the immediate resumption of the normal activities of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Owerri Judicial Division.

With the greatest sense of respect and responsibility, we call on the President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, to accede to the justice needs and aspirations of the people of Imo State, particularly, the litigants whose matters are pending in that Court, being the direct victims of this impasse, by ensuring the immediate resumption of the business of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Owerri Judicial Division.

 

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