By Sylvester Nwobi
The media have been awash of recent with petitions by one Mr. Peter Eze, a lawyer against the Chief Judge of Enugu State, His Lordship, Hon. Justice Innocent Umezulike, to the Attorney-General of the Federation, the National Judicial Council, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission, wherein he levelled allegations of forgery and misconducts.
In particular, the petitioner alleged that the Chief Judge and Mr. Vin Aneke, (a lawyer and Director of Litigation and Courts Division) forged a Judgment Order.
He further alleged that Aneke accepted gratification in parcels of land from the plaintiffs supposedly for the allegedly forged Judgment Order.
However, the Chief Judge denied the allegations at a dinner he organised for the Eastern Bar.
In his words: “The truth of the matter is that Justice P. K. Nwokedi as Chief Judge of Old Anambra State with Headquarters in Enugu delivered judgment in Suit NO: E.170/76 on the 25th day of June, 1985. Thereafter the case progressed through the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court, which delivered final judgment in the case in favour of the plaintiffs.
“By the time the Supreme Court finally decided the appeal, Justice P.K. Nwokedi has ceased to be the Chief Judge of Old Anambra State (with Enugu as its Headquarters); he had been elevated to the Supreme Court from the High Court of Old Anambra State. And by the time Supreme Court dismissed the appeal in January 1997, Justice P. K. Nwokedi had retired from the Supreme Court and was no longer a judicial officer.
“That was why upon the presentation of Annexure Two and I was satisfied that the Supreme Court had ended the matter I, (as the Chief Judge of Enugu State now) signed the warrant of execution.”
It is instructive that Justice Umezulike keeps talking about the Writ of Execution. He does not talk about the Judgment Order. The complaint of forgery by petitioner is not in respect of the Writ of Execution. The complaint of forgery is not in respect of the Writ of Execution. What is in issue here is whether a judge is entitled to draw up a Judgment Order of a judgment he did not deliver and insert his name in it as if he was the judge who delivered the judgment.
The Judgment Order, which he drew up and signed, states: “Upon this case coming up before me today 25th of June 1985 for judgment.
“And upon considering the evidence, Exhibits tendered and submissions of N. N. Anah Esq. of counsel for the plaintiffs and A. N. Anyamene Esq. counsel for the Defendants, this Court adjudged as follows.”
It gives the impression that he heard the case and delivered the judgment. He even went ahead to date the court order 25th June 1985 when he was not a judge. Did he sign the judgment order in 1985?
So, does the document tell a lie about itself? Yes it does; and a lot. The Judgment Order is headed “IN THE HIGH COURT OF ENUGU STATE”, but the judgment was delivered by the High Court of Anambra State, not Enugu State. Enugu State was not in existence in 1985. There are therefore two lies: that the judgment was delivered by the High Court of Enugu State; and that Enugu State was in existence in 1985.
Another lie is that the case came up before Hon. Justice Umezulike and that he heard the evidence and listened to the lawyers in the case. It is not true that Hon. Justice Umezulike heard the case and delivered the judgment. But, Justice Nwokedi who heard the case and delivered the judgment.
Again, the Judgment Order was also signed by Mr. Aneke and is said to have been issued at Enugu on 25th of June 1985. He was not a lawyer or the Director of Litigation and Courts Division in the High Court of Enugu State in 1985. He became a lawyer in 2003. He did not sign the judgment order on 25th June 1985 as shown in the document.
He argues that once a judge retires or dies, any other judge may sign his judgments or orders and insert his name as if he were the person who delivered the judgment. That is not true. Only a judge who delivered a judgment can sign the Judgment Order drawn up from the judgment.
Indeed, there is a very remarkable difference between a Judgment, a Judgment Order, and a Writ of Execution based on the judgment. Any judge may sign a Writ of Execution drawn up to execute a Judgment whether he was the person who delivered the Judgment or not and regardless of what date the Judgment was delivered. A Writ of Execution is not backdated, but is dated the date it is signed.
Hon. Justice Umezulike signed and backdated a Judgment Order based on a judgment he did not deliver, which he had no authority to do. He also signed and properly dated a Writ of Execution, which he had power in law to do. Both are two different court processes. A Chief Judge ought to know better.
The next issue is the proper procedure for the enforcement of a judgment.
The Judgment Enforcement Rules provide that if a judgment is more than 6 years old, you need the leave of court to enforce it. What was being enforced was the judgment of the High Court of Anambra State and not the judgment of the Supreme Court.
That is why the Judgment Order drawn up was that of the High Court, which contained the terms of the judgment and not the Judgment Order of the Supreme Court. Leave was, therefore, required to enforce the judgment.
Another issue is that the original parties to the suit were dead. Before the judgment could be enforced the people being represented were required to bring an application to the High Court to substitute their representatives. A case in court cannot stand when all the parties on record are dead.
Therefore, some of the questions the NJC would likely be asking the CJ are: When a judge retires or dies, can another judge sign a Judgment Order based on the judgment delivered by the retired or dead judge? Can he provide evidence of any other Judgment Order, which he or any other judge has signed in similar circumstances? Was he entitled to alter the heading of the case from Anambra State, where it was delivered, to Enugu State?