By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
About fifteen lawyers among them a pregnant woman and two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) yesterday escaped death in a stampede triggered by armed invasion of the Federal High Court in Yenagoa by suspected thugs over the suit between Senator Heineken Lokpobiri and Foster Ogola.
The incumbent Senator, Lokpobiri, is challenging the choice of Ogola in the court as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the Bayelsa West Senatorial district of the state.
According to eyewitnesses, the thugs stormed the Federal High Court premises located along Capt. Amangala road, at about 10am over a purported sitting of the court and attempt by the judge, Justice I.E.Ekwo, to deliver judgement on the case of candidacy of the PDP.
Lawyers, who escaped from the premises included the State Chairman of the NIgerian Bar Association (NBA), Tony Okorodas.
The thugs upturned chairs within the court room and caused pandemonium as the lawyers scampered for safety.
An eyewitness said it took the deployment of armed policemen and sporadic shooting into the air to restore normalcy as the invaders fled the scene.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Asinim Butswat, confirmed the incident.
He said “yes, some group of boys, attacked the court and vandalized the windows and chairs in the court. I am not aware of shooting of guns but before our men deployed to the scene could arrived, they escaped.”
However the Counsel to Senator Lokpobiri, Selekeowei Larry (SAN) told newsmen that the thugs were led into the court premises by the state Governor, Hon.Seriake Dickson.
This was however dismissed by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Daniel Iworiso- Markson, who in statement said the Governor’s visit to the scene was to ensure peace between rival supporters of Senator Heineken Lokpobiri and Foster Ogola.
Counsel to Senator Lokpobiri, Selekeowei Larry, told newsmen that the attack on the court, which he claimed was led by the State Governor, was a shameful act and a show intimidation against the judiciary.
He said: “Our case was listed as number 9 on the court list and I arrived the court early. Few minutes later, strange boys took over the entrance into the court and stopped people from entering. I tried to go out and know what was happening and I met the Bayelsa Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Wodu. And I asked him what was going on. But his body language and countenance showed that all was not well.
“While the court was hearing the case being handled by Linus Nwosu (SAN), we heard the loud voice of the governor threatening fire and brimstone and claiming that nobody can come from Abuja and determine what will happen in Bayelsa. We saw him wave his hands up and the thugs came into the court and everyone scampered for safety including the court judge.”
Selekeowei also debunked the claim that his client Senator Lokpobiri instigated the sacking of the court, describing the allegation as spurious.
“How can the same man that wanted justice through the court, disrupt the proceedings of the court with thugs?” he queried.
But the Bayelsa Governor, Seriake Dickson, in a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Daniel Iworiso-Markson frowned at what he described as the deploying of force by Senator Heineken Lokpobiri to secure the PDP ticket for the Bayelsa – West Senatorial District, with misleading information and outright forgery of party documents.
The governor, according to the statement, spoke during his visit to the scene of the clash between rival supporters of the winner of the party’s primaries, Foster Ogola and incumbent Senator, Heineken Lokpobiri, who is challenging the candidacy of Ogola in court.
Dickson in the statement warned that the government will deal decisively with anybody or group of persons, no matter how highly placed, that takes the law into their hands.
The statement read in part, “Reports have it that, supporters of Evangelist Foster Ogola were irked, when the Judge, who had earlier been petitioned over his lopsided handling of the matter, went ahead to fix hearing and judgement for today (Monday), without proper notification to both parties, even as the matter has been moved away from his court.
“Governor Dickson, who visited the scene of the clash in the company of some heads of security agencies, condemned the action of Senator Lokpobiri for manipulating the judicial process for judgement to be passed in his favour, without the knowledge of the other party in the matter.
“He advised the judiciary not to allow itself to be used by desperate politicians to perpetrate injustice, capable of causing a breach of the peace, as was experienced today between the rival supporters.
Meanwhile, as a press time, a police armoured personnel carrier had been deployed at the junction leading to the court premises with two patrol vans stationed some distance from the scene of the skirmish.