By Peter Okutu
ABAKALIKI—LEGAL proceedings, yesterday, continued on the case filed by a lawyer, Luke Nkwegu, against the Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki (FETHA) and the former Chief Medical Director of the Hospital, Dr. Paul Ezeonu, demanding the list of employees in the hospital from 2011 to 2013.
The suit which was filed, January 8, 2015, pursuant to Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, is requesting the court to compel the defendants to make available to the plaintiff, the list of persons employed between 2011 and 2013, with their names, their local government of origin, state of origin and their great levels.
When the matter which has suffered many adjournments in the past, came up at Federal High Court Abakaliki Division headed by Justice Maureen Ada Onyetenu, counsel to the defendant, Victor Okechukwu and Princess Ivo Chaka Nweze filed a fresh preliminary objection which, among other things, challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter.
The defence counsel argued that the information sought by the plaintiff contains personal data including local government and state of origin of the personnel of the teaching hospital, which according to them were outside the provisions of FOI Act.
They applied for the withdrawal of earlier preliminary objection they filed and to substitute same with the fresh and amended preliminary objection. But the counsel to the plaintiff, Barr. Hosea Nwofe objected to the preliminary objection and asked the court to strike it out as it was a delay tactics.
He argued that he was only served the preliminary objection that morning even when the counsel to the defendants knew that the day was meant for definite adoption of processes for ruling on the substantive application. “My Lord, defendants filed preliminary objection this morning, it should be thrown away because its intention is to stop adoption of processes this morning. This same preliminary objection was filed before and later withdrawn and was struck out by this court. It is filed in bad faith, and it constitutes abuse of court process,” he maintained.
But replying, one of the defense counsel, Mrs Chaka Nweze, argued that the fresh preliminary objection was an amended version of the previous one withdrawn and struck out, and that it was not on the same grounds as the former.
In her ruling, Justice Onyetenu over-ruled the plaintiff’s counsel’s objection and allowed the defendants to withdraw the previous preliminary objection and to substitute it with a fresh one.
Onyetenu said that the court would have acceded to the plaintiff’s counsel’s argument to throw away the preliminary objection if the earlier preliminary objection had been dismissed and not struck out.
She maintained that since the previous preliminary objection was struck out and not dismissed, the defence counsel can file it again more so as the fresh one contains some amendments to the former.
The judge however awarded a cost of N10, 000 in favour of the plaintiff, which the defendant must pay before the next date of adjournment.
The matter was adjourned to November 24, 2015 for adoption of processes, which is both the preliminary objection and reply by the plaintiff; after which adoption of processes on substantive application can be taken.