Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja has disqualified himself from adjudicating in a suit filed by the Incorporated Trustee of Oron Union, Akwa Ibom State against the federal government challenging the composition of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The union is challenging the nominations of Messrs Nsima Ekere and Frank George for appointment as the Managing Director and Commissioner in the board of NDDC respectively.
It also asked the court to stop further appointments into the board pending the outcome of the suit.
However, when the case came up yesterday for hearing, Justice Abang handed off the case and returned the case file to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta for reassignment to another judge.
Abang stated that his decision was borne out of the fact that both the plaintiff and the fifth defendant (Nsima Ekere) are both from Oron community where coincidentally he hails from.
“Justice must not be seen to be done but it must be seen to have been manifestly done. Considering the fact that I am from the same community with both the plaintiff and the fifth defendant, it is only proper that I stay off from this case and remit the case back to the Chief Judge for re-assignment to another judge in the interest of justice”, he said.
At the last sitting, Abang had asked the parties to the suit who were present in court whether he was qualified to preside over the case, considering that he was from the same community in dispute.
Although they all responded in affirmative, he said he had decided within himself not to go ahead with the case.
According to him, the case will continue when judges resume from their annual vacation and it is re assigned to another Judge.
But before ruling on self-disqualification, the sixth defendant (Frank George) had written the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, asking that Abang disqualify himself from adjudicating on the matter on the grounds that he was from Oron.
He stated that his decision was not to slight the judge but in the interest of fairness and justice.
In his reaction, Justice Abang said the party would have raised the issue during court proceedings rather than going to the extent of writing the Chief Judge.
In the suit with No. FSC/ABJ/CS/603/2016 dated August 3 and filed on August 11, the union represented by its President General, Dr. Effiom Eduna, had told the court that the nominations of Ekere and George were wrongly made as both of them were not from the oil producing areas of Akwa Ibom State.
Counsel to the plaintiff, Mr. Jibrin Okutepa, having secured leave of court to hear the case during its long vacation due to its urgent nature, asked the court to give an ex-parte order, restraining the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki and the National Assembly from confirming the appointments.
He told the court that his application was supported by two affidavits – a 24-paragraph affidavit in support of the motion, disposed to by the President General of the union as well as the affidavit of urgency, which was five paragraphs.
According to him, the NDDC Act sets out those qualified to be made Managing Director (MD) and Commissioners of the board.
He added that paragraphs 20 and 21 of the affidavit in support of the application stated that fifth and sixth defendants were not from the oil producing areas of Akwa Ibom State and as such, they were not qualified to assume the positions the federal government and the commission have forwarded their names to the National Assembly for.
Some other prayers as contained in the affidavit include the fact that the appointment of the second defendant was done without regard to the provisions of Section 171 (5) of the 1999 Constitution and the provision of the NDDC establishment Act 2004.
“That as a result of the unconstitutional mode of appointment of the second defendant by the federal government, development in the Niger Delta region, national unity, national loyalty and security are threatened.
“That the peace and development in the region are threatened as a result of ethnic and sectional marginalisation.”
The counsel therefore urged the court to grant the application in the interest of justice.
“Grant the application so that we can put them on notice, so that they will come and show us whether the fifth and sixth defendants are qualified for the positions they are nominated for.”
Justice Abang had earlier declined to grant an order of interim injunction restraining Saraki and the National Assembly from confirming the nominations and appointments of Ekere and George as M.D and commissioner respectively into the Board of NDDC pending the outcome of motion on notice.
The judge held that the defendants be put on notice. He said there was a need to hear from the defendants before taking decision.
“The injunctive order if granted is executory in nature, not declaratory.
Therefore, before an impossible positive order is made, there is need to hear the other side, to hear the defendants before decision is made.
“There is a compelling need to hear all sides. The issue is not whether the court will hear the application but that of Sections 5 and 12 of NDDC Act which is fundamental in nature.”
The judge added that the reliefs contained in the motion ex-parte were similar to the prayers contained in the motion on notice.