by Dare Lawal
At a valedictory court session in his honour, a former judge of the Federal High Court, Lagos Division, Justice Okechukwu Okeke, yesterday alleged that the reason for the travails he faced in the dying days of his time on the bench was due to an attempt by a Supreme Court Justice to influence his ruling, which he declined.
The Supreme Court Justice in question is Justice Clara Ogunbiyi.
Okeke declared that he was “a victim of injustice in the Nigerian judiciary,” following three petitions against him from cases he was handling, that led to the National Judicial Council (NJC), in a May 6 letter, “seriously” warning him to desist from acts prejudicial to the judiciary’s integrity.
In the valedictory session presided over by the Chief Judge of the federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, Okeke who retired from the bench on May 19, said: “I plead with the NJC, in the interest of justice and the benefit of the citizens of this great country Nigeria to publish in any national newspaper-unedited – the said petitions and my responses to them.”
According to The Nation:
Justice Okeke said his travails began with his adjudication of an application filed by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) versus convicted former Oceanic Bank Managing Director Mrs Cecilia Ibru.
The application was for an order granting AMCON leave to apply for the issuance of a writ of execution (possession) by the court’s registrar in respect of the Federal Government properties forfeited by Ibru following an order made by the court’s former Chief Judge, Mr. Justice Dan Abutu.
Justice Okeke said the application was argued on March 1. Satisfied that a case had been made out for the exercise of the court’s discretion in favour of the applicant, he granted the application as prayed.
He said: “On 6th of March, 2013, I received a call from the Honourable Chief Judge of the Federal High Court that Honourable Justice Clara Ogunbiyi of the Supreme Court of Nigeria was furious with me for granting leave to Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, which led to the ejection of her daughter and son-in-law from No. 5A, George Street, Ikoyi, Lagos.
“I explained the position to him. In his characteristic policy of non-interference with his judges in the discharge of their duties, he advised me to hear any application for the discharge of the order of 1st of March whenever filed.
“On 8th day of March 2012, one Funke Ogunbiyi came to my Chambers at about 9.04 am, completed the visitor’s form in which she stated her address as No. 5A, George Street, Ikoyi, Lagos and wrote her phone number…She was led into the chambers.
“She introduced herself as a daughter of Honourable Justice Clara Ogunbiyi of Supreme Court of Nigeria, that she was living with her husband at No. 5A, George Street, Ikoyi, Lagos, and that the mother …directed her to tell me to discharge the Order of 1st March, 2013 as there was no basis for the order.
“I advised her that since they have filed a Motion on Notice for the setting aside of the order of 1st of March, 2013, that their counsel should meet the registrar of the court for a date for their motion,” Mr. Justice Okeke said.
According to him, after considering the processes filed, he dismissed the application to set aside the order and advised the interveners/applicants to take their case to the Court of Appeal.
“Hell was let loose on me,” Mr. Justice Okeke said, adding: “The interveners/applicants and their counsel wrote a petition against me which they backdated 18th March 2013 to the NJC.”
Despite the petitions and “warning”, the former judge said NJC, in a May 13 letter, wished him “happy retirement after putting in years of dedicated and meritorious service to, particularly, the Federal judiciary”.
Justice Auta, who is a member of the NJC, said he would not comment on the allegations and issues Mr. Justice Okeke raised concerning his travails.
He described Mr. Justice Okeke as a man of honour. “The occasion underscores the important principle that excellence in the discharge of one’s responsibility and selfless service to the nation are virtues worthy of perfection and emulation,” Justice Auta said, adding:
“Hon. Justice Okeke, above all, is a true Igbo man…You may have a second view to his own on all things or have a second view about him on many things, but there is always unanimity of opinion about his honesty. His integrity is impeccable.”
Among guests at the court session were former Chief Judges of the court, Abdullahi Mustapha and Rose Ukeje; states Attorneys-General, including Ade Ipaye who represented Governor Babatunde Fashola (SAN) and Peter Afuba, his Anambra counterpart; Senior Advocates of Nigeria, including Chief Theodore Ezeobi, Dr Joseph Nwobike, Mr Kemi Pinhero, Mrs Funke Adekoya and Mr Rickey Tarfa, among others.
Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Mr. Sunday Olorundahunsi, yesterday refrained from commenting on the allegation by Justice Okechukwu Okeke (Federal High Court) that Justice Clara Bata-Ogunbiyi of the Supreme Court once attempted to influence his decision in a case.
When The Nation contacted him through the telephone, he said he could not comment on such an allegation because he was not present when it was made.
“I don’t know anything about the allegation. I am not in Lagos, where you said the allegation was made. I am in Abuja. I don’t know what happened in Lagos.
“So, how do you expect me to be reacting to an allegation that I do not know anything about and was not where it was made?”