as SANs clash in court over brief
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—THERE was a mild drama before an Abuja High Court in Jabi, yesterday, as two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, clashed in the open court over who was duly briefed by the factional chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, and governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, to represent him in the suit entered against him by Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State.
Immediately the case was called-up in court, the two SANs, Chief Tayo Oyetibo and Paul Erokoro, separately announced their appearances, with each of them, insisting that he had the mandate of Governor Jang to file processes in opposition to the suit.
Both lawyers maintained that having been duly briefed by Jang regarding the matter, they proceeded with filing separate preliminary objections before the court seeking the dismissal of Fashola’s suit.
Following an argument that ensued between the two senior counsel over who should he allowed to represent Jang in the matter, Justice Peter Affen, decided to adjourn the case till July 3, to enable the SANs sort themselves out. Before adjourning the case, however, Justice Affen, who was visibly irked by the uncanny drama that played out, said he would not tolerate anyone bringing to his court confusion capable of exposing the judiciary to public ridicule.
Meanwhile, Fashola’s counsel, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, SAN, who appeared alongside Lagos-based human rights activist, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, prayed the court to go ahead and dismiss Jang’s objection, despite who between the contending lawyers filed it.
Osibanjo vehemently opposed the idea of granting a stand-down in the matter to allow Governor Jang sort out the confusion. He said: “We do not need a stand down, as there are two counsel for a party, it is an abuse of court process. My Lord, this was the same confusion they brought to the Nigeria Governors Forum, now their plan is to bring the same confusion to this court.”
At that juncture, Justice Affen enjoined all the lawyers to act with caution, noting that the judiciary was in the spotlight again. He said that lawyers should not do anything that would erode the credibility, adding: “Let us not toe the line of the Nigeria Governors Forum. We are here to resolve their differences and not to add to it.”
Consequently, he held that in view of the conflict in representation, the best thing was to adjourn the case.
It will be recalled that Jang had in one of his counter-affidavits filed by Oyetibo, SAN, urged the court to strike out Fashola’s suit against him for being frivolous. It was his argument that the Lagos State governor was bereft of the legal right to seek an order restraining him from parading himself as chairman of the NGF.
He further challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear and adjudicate on the matter, contending that “any dispute within NGF cannot be taken to an Abuja High Court by virtue of Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), which prescribes that disputes should be resolved at the Federal High Court instead.”
Describing the dispute bedeviling the NGF as “non-justiceable as it relates to a mere dispute as to political dignity”, Jang, maintained that the fact that Fashola never contested the NGF chairmanship election, stripped him of the legal right to institute or sustain the action.
He argued that Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State who Fashola claimed won the election, never complained to the court that his mandate was usurped nor was he named or joined as a party to the suit.
Jang further maintained that going by the way the suit was couched between the governor of Lagos State and his Plateau State counterpart, the Plaintiff suggested a dispute between Lagos and Plateau States governments which automatically stripped every court of jurisdiction, save the Supreme Court which is bequeathed with the exclusive jurisdiction to determine or resolve disputes between governments of states or state and federal government.
He said: “Traditionally, the NGF does not hold elections to produce a chairman. It is the practice that the chairman of the Forum is appointed by consensus of the members. Where a consensus cannot be reached, the candidate supported by a simple majority would become the chairman.
“In pursuance of that fact above, Governor Amaechi was informed that nineteen of the thirty-six Governors of the states of the Federation have indicated in writing their decision to support Governor Jonah Jang as Chairman of the NGF.”