Justice Okon Abang: A Judge and Burden of Justice

No Judge in the history of Nigerian judiciary has received bashing from the appellate court like Justice Okon Abang, an Abuja Federal High Court Judge, in recent times.
Justice Okon Abang has been at the receiving end lately especially from Appeal Court Justices.
For many, Abang is bold, courageous and trend even where angels are afraid to walk. His court is so hallow that lawyers and observers who have had one reason or the other to appear before him always do so in reverence. Or be shown the way out of his court!
He is not known to make pronouncements or pass judgments with hesitation. His advise always is “if you don’t like the judgment appeal”
Perhaps this is why controversy has courted him, or he has courted controversy.
For some unexplained reasons, his judgments have been shot down, torn into shreds, with words from the Appeal Court Justices, harsh as the desert sun, which tend to put Abang’s knowledge of the law in doubt.
Setting aside Abang’s judgments on the Ondo Peoples Democratic Party crisis, on Wednesday, the Appeal Court Judges comprising Justice Ibrahim Saulawa, as head and Justices Ignatius Igwe Agube and Ita Godwin Mbabane, as members, did not see Abang’s pronouncements as worth the paper they were written on.
In a tone spiced with innuendo and irony, the Judges took Abang to the cleaners.
At a point Saulawa described Abang’s judgment “from the most learned Judge” as “controversial, inexperienced, indefensible and fraudulent” played “an ignoble role” in the Ondo PDP crisis.
According to Saulawa, Justice Abang played the plaintiff and at the same time, the respondent in the case.
“The trial Judge on his own, without allowing parties to present their arguments went ahead to deliver that ruling.
“Consequently, the October 14 judgment ruling of the trial court is hereby set aside”, Saulawa ruled.
He did not stop there, he held that the order of the Justice Abang was “violent attitudinal disposition to rule of law”.
“It is a gross abuse of section 36 (1) of the constitution, particularly the right to fair hearing.
“We set aside the highly misplaced; most fraudulent judgement.
The principle of natural justice requires that all parties must be heard before judgment is delivered,” Justice Saulawa ruled
The Appeal Court also held that Justice Abang acted without jurisdiction when he made orders against those that were not parties ‎before him.
The Saulawa led panel also described the primary, which Abang based his judgement, as “illegal contraption” with “no legal effect or equitable remedy”, adding that the only valid primary was the one conducted by ‎National Working Committee of any political party.
Recall in the same vein, the Appeal Court panel that sat over Abia Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu and Sampson Ogah case, in August this year, ripped through Abang’s judgment with the same tone.
The Justice Helen Morenikeji Ogunwumiju-led panel held that Justice Abang raped democracy in his order that the Independent National Electoral Commission should issue a certificate of return to Ogah when there was no evidence of forgery or criminality against the appellant, Ikpeazu .
According to the court, Justice Abang’s judgement was grossly erroneous because it was based on inadequacy of tax receipt that cannot be visited on the appellant (Ikpeazu).
“After reading through the judgment several times, I was amazed at how the trial Judge arrived at his conclusion of perjury against the appellant when there was no evidence of forgery. To say the least, his findings are ridiculous.
“The Judge must have sat in his chamber, unilaterally assessed and computed the tax of the appellant and came to the conclusion that he did not pay the required tax. But let me say that courts are not allowed to speculate as the trial Judge has done in the instant case.
“The trial judge spoke from both sides of his mouth when in one breath he claimed that he based his findings on supply of false information and in another breadth he came to the conclusion that the appellant in this matter committed perjury, even when there was no allegation of forgery and no allegation that he did not pay tax.
“With respect, we disagree with him (Abang) in this conclusion because it is the person that makes allegation of falsehood that must prove it.”
The Appeal Court also held that Justice Abang erred when he imported the phrase ‘as at when due’ into the PDP 2014 guidelines.
“The Judge would not have imported the phrase into his findings if he had seen the copy of the PDP guideline. In this case, he violated the PDP guideline.
“From whatever angle one looks at the judgment of the trial Judge, the decision of his court was grossly erroneous. The inadequacies of the tax receipt cannot be visited on Ikpeazu who scored the highest votes in the 2015 governorship elections as doing so will amount to rape of democracy.”
In all, the appellate court set aside Justice Abang’s judgement for being a “nullity and miscarriage of justice that must not be allowed in law.”
A member of the same panel, Justice Ibrahim Shata Bdliya who delivered one of the lead judgements in one of the appeals, held that Justice Abang erred in law by assuming jurisdiction in an originating summons that was not signed by any identifiable legal practitioner among the three lawyers that issued the said summons.
She said the Federal High Court judgment delivered on June 27 was said not to have been competent, having been based on an originating summons that was invalid, null and void.
Apart from not signing the originating summons, the Appeal Court held that the suit filed by Ogah did not disclose any cause of action because it was filed even before the appellant (Ikpeazu) submitted his documents to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Justice Bdliya agreed with counsel to the Governor , Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), that it was not the duty of the court to begin to search for the signatory to the originating summons to authenticate it as required by law.
Besides, the Appeal Court also held that although the originating summons was later amended, but an amended originating summon had no capacity to cure a defective and incurably bad originating summons being the foundation of the suit.
The Appeal Court further agreed with Olanipekun that Justice Abang erred in law by making findings at the interlocutory level of case by taking a stance on issues in the main suit.
“He ought not to have given the final findings at the interlocutory level and his conclusion at the interlocutory level was a breach of fair hearing against the appellant who was not given opportunity to use the substantive suit to prove his case.”

Author: News Editor

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