Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos Friday refused to disqualify himself from adjudicating a N5.5billion debt case between Honeywell Flour Mills Plc, its sister companies and Ecobank Nigeria Limited.
Ecobank’ had written the Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Auta, asking that......the case be re-assigned to another judge.
The bank said it no longer had confidence in the judge to do justice.
Praying the court to recuse himself from adjudicating the case, Ecobank’s lawyer Mr Kunle Ogunba (SAN) said his client had several reasons to believe that it would not get justice from the judge.
“The court’s rules allow My Lord to transfer the case on his own. This is the first time we’re asking in this suit that the case be re-assigned,” Ogunba said.
Ogunba said the application to transfer the case was not an attack on the judge’s integrity.
“Since a party has shown that it does not harbour the confidence in your Lordship to handle the case dispassionately, your Lordship should wait on the CJ to respond or for My Lord to recuse himself so that parties can go before any other judge. This is our client’s grievance.
“Their (plaintiffs’) conduct has been as if they own the court. It accords with the best judicial tenets for your Lordship to await the CJ’s decision or recuse himself,” Ogunba said.But Honeywell’s lawyer Bode Olanipekun argued that Ecobank’s application was a ploy to delay the case
“It’s an application to stymie, waylay and ambush proceedings. This type of application portends very grave danger to the judiciary,” he said.
According to him, if Ecobank had any issues with the judge’s rulings, it ought to go on appeal.
“This application is not based on any law. I urge your Lordship to dismiss the application,” Olanipekun added.
Ruling, Justice idris refused to recuse himself from the case. He said he would stick to his judicial oath in determining the case.
His words: “It is always tempting for a judge against whom criticisms are made to say he would prefer not to hear further proceedings in which the critic is involved.
“But it is important for a judge to resist the temptation to recuse himself simply because it’ll be comfortable to do so. The danger is that we’ll soon reach a position in which litigants were able to select judges to hear their cases simply by criticising all the judges that they do not want to hear their cases, whether the criticism is justified or not.
“These issues are either for the appellate court or appealable issues and the defendant can exercise the right of appeal if it so desires. The application for the judge to recuse himself from this matter is most frivolous and it is refused.
“This court shall abide by the decision of the Honourable the Chief Judge whenever it is made. The application is refused and the matter shall proceed accordingly.”
The judge earlier refused Olanipekun’s application to compel this reporter to step into th dock and disclose the source of his report on Ecobank’s letter to the CJ. The story, published in the Tuesday edition of this newspaper, was based on the letter.
Olanipekun said: “We only got hint of that application by a publication in The Nation of November 15, 2016 in an article authored by one Joseph Jibueze. Coincidentally, he is in court. I take this issue very seriously.
“I refer to the National Judicial Council (NJC) policy on complaints against judicial officers. Section 2.2 (4) to section 2.2 (9) bars any party from leaking any allegation of judicial misconduct against any judge in the press.
“May I apply that Mr Jibueze comes into the dock to tell the court how he came about the story. Let him tell us the origin and how he came to know about it.”
Ogunba, who spoke in the journalist’s defence, describing Olanipekun’s application as “bizarre”.
He said: “This application is shocking. Mr Jibueze is not a party to this suit. On what basis will he enter the dock? Olanipekun has not cited any rule of procedure that allows that. Mr Jibueze did not report what was not in existence. I urge my Lord to discountenance my learned friend’s application.”
In a short ruling, Justice Idris asked Mr Olanipekun to “drop” the application and to “leave Mr Jibueze out of it”.
Justice Idris said: “I urge counsel to drop it. Let’s leave Mr Jibueze out of it. Let’s leave Mr Jibueze alone. Let’s leave Mr Jibueze and go to the substance. We’ll leave the press out of it. They’re doing their work.”
The judge said his attention was also drawn to the story, but that he was not surprised by Ecobank’s letter to the CJ.
He said: “I was asked: ‘have you read the report?’ I said: ‘What matter?’ They said: ‘Ecobank.’ I said I expected that they would write the DSS (Department of State Services). I expected that they would write the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission).
“I expected that they would write the ICPC (Independent Practices and other related offences Commission). I expected that there would be a sting operation in my house on Monday the 14th of November. I expected and I was waiting. And I am waiting.
“I said it on the last date and I’m saying it today: Nobody, no matter who you are can threaten me. Nobody, no matter who you are can intimidate me. Idris can never be intimidated. Never! This is a court a court of law. You don’t do politics in Justice Idris’ court.
“No matter how rich you are, you can’t influence Justice Idris – no matter how powerful you are. Keep your money in your pockets. Don’t come here with your money, I’ll not accept it. Keep your influence where they are, you cannot influence Justice Idris whoever you are. I’m saying it openly and I am declaring it.
“Let’s go to the issues. I’m prepared. Justice idris is prepared. Ogunba SAN knows me very well in practice. So let’s leave the issue of Jibueze. Let’s go to the substance. We’ll leave the pressmen out of it. We do law in this court. Let’s talk law.”
The judge adjourned until December 1 for hearing.