Alex Enumah in Abuja
Justice Judith Agbakoba of the Abuja division of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) yesterday withdrew from the hearing of an industrial dispute between Major General Ijioma Ijioma and the Nigerian Army.
Justice Agbakoba who had reserved judgment in the suit for yesterday, however, recused herself from the matter following allegations of bias by counsel to the Nigerian Army and Chief of Army, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai.
Ijioma had dragged the Nigerian Army, Buratai and two others to court, challenging his compulsory retirement from the Nigerian Army in 2016, after serving for 32years, 11 months and five days.
In the suit marked NICN/ABJ/262/2016, the plaintiff while asking the court to declare his compulsory retirement unlawful, illegal, null and void, wants the court to order that he be reinstated into the Nigerian Army.
When the matter was called, counsel to the Nigerian Army and Chief of Army Staff, Michael Owolabi, stood up to inform the court of two application; one asking the court to stay proceedings pending the hearing and determination of the appeal filed by the defendants and the other requesting the court to recuse itself from further hearing of the suit on grounds that the defendants have lost confidence in the court to do justice in the matter.
The defendants predicated their allegations of bias on the grounds that the judge foreclosed them from presenting their witnesses to support their defence in the matter.
Owolabi said, “Justice is rooted in confidence, My Lord. One of the parties appearing before your lordship has lost confidence,” and added that in the interest of justice and fair play the judge should hands off the case, until the President of the NICN transfers the matter to another judge.
Responding, counsel to the complainant, Godwin Iyinbor, urged the court to go ahead with the days schedule and ignore the defendants, stating that if the President of the National Industrial Court had wanted her to discontinue the case he would have done so since the petition against the court was filed since October 31.
Iyinbor in urging the court to disregard the applications described the applications as frivolous, vexatious and only intended to delay the proceedings of the court.
Iyinbor argued that the current stage of the matter does not allow for any unwarranted application by parties, stressing that when a matter has been adjourned for judgment an application cannot be brought at that stage.
He noted that whereas the petition was filed on October 30, the applicant delayed in serving the complainant till November 19, in a deliberate attempt to delay the trial.
“He kept it, so as to prevent us from responding to this petition.
“The petition is addressed to the president of the court. It is not a process before the court. If the President has not given an order since it was served for something to be done, the court should discountenance it and proceed with the business of the day”, he submitted.
However, Justice Agbakoba, acceded to the demand of the defendants and recused herself from the matter stating that she cannot continue since the defendants have lost confidence in her court, adding that the issue of bias raised against her was fundamental.
She accordingly announced her withdrawal from the suit and that the case file will be handed over to the President of the court.
Ijioma is one of the 38 officers of the Nigerian Army who are challenging their forced retirement citing injustice, lack of due process and fair