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Constitutionality Of Virtual Court Hearings: Supreme Court Set To Hear Ekiti Attorney General’s Case

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The Supreme Court has fixed tomorrow, 14th July 2020 for the hearing of the suit brought by the Attorney- General of Ekiti State, Olawale Fapohunda against the Attorney-General of the Federation and Attorneys- General of Lagos and Ogun States respectively.

In the suit brought pursuant to Order 3 rule 6, Supreme Court Rules (as amended in 1999), section 232(1) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) and sections 1(3), 36(3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the Attorney-General of Ekiti State is asking the Supreme Court to determine whether the directive issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation, vide its directive issued on the 20th of April, 2020 to the Head of Courts at Federal and States level, in conjunction with Guidelines, issued on the 7th May,2020, by the National Judicial Council specifically as it relates to the conduct of virtual proceedings in court is not only a violation of the federalism provisions of the 1999 Constitution but also in violation of the constitutional provisions on fair hearing specifically as it relates to the conduct of criminal trials in public.

The Ekiti State Attorney- General is also asking the Supreme Court to set aside, or strike down so much of the said directive of the Attorney-General of the Federation and National Judicial Council Guidelines, as it relates to Virtual or Remote Court sittings to the extent that they purport to be binding on the Ekiti State High Court for being inconsistent with Section 1(3), 4(6), 5(2), 6(2), 36(3) and (4), 272 and 274 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

The issue of the constitutionality or otherwise of remote or virtual court hearing has dominated national discussion since the publication of the guidelines of the National Judicial Council which recommended virtual court proceedings for courts in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Opinion has been divided among lawyers on the legality of the directive. A number of High Courts including those in Lagos, Ogun, and Borno States have proceeded to implement the guidelines while many States have been adamant in their opposition to the directive insisting that only a constitutional amendment or pronouncement by the Supreme Court can ensure the legality of virtual court hearings.

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Court To Hear Suit Challenging Lagos Ban Of Motorcycles, Tricycles On Dec 15

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The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has fixed December 15 to hear a suit seeking the reversal of the ban placed by the Lagos State Government on the operations of commercial motorcycles and tricycles, popularly known as Okada and Keke Marwa.

A Lagos-based lawyer, Julius Ajibulu, who filed the suit said the ban on okada and keke Marwa, without a replacement or an alternative means of transportation, had subjected Lagosians to untold hardship and taken away the source of livelihood of the operators.

The lawyer claimed that the ban had led to massive unemployment and an escalation in the rate of crime and insecurity in the state due to loss of jobs.

He said the ban further violated his fundamental rights and those of other Lagosians under sections 33, 34, 36, 38, 41 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution.

Ajibulu is asking the court to order “the immediate resumption of commercial operations and activities of tricyles (Keke NAPEP/ Marwa) and motorcycles (okada) of 50cc-200cc capacity engine on the above stated highways and expressways through the aforesaid bridges in 15 local government and local development council areas of Lagos State.”

He is also seeking damages in the sum of N1bn as well as a public apology in newspapers.

The suit is the second lawsuit seeking the reversal of the Lagos State Government’s ban on okada and Keke Marwa.

Another lawyer, Olukoya Ogungbeje, had earlier filed a suit before the same court on the same issue.

In his suit before Justice Mohammed Liman, Ogungbeje is seeking a declaration that “the forceful impounding, seizure or confiscation of motorcycles and tricycles” by agents of the Lagos State Government amounted to an infringement on the right of residents to own property under sections 43 and 44 of the Constitution.”

The Lagos State Government had in February proscribed both motorcycles and tricycles in six local governments and nine local council development areas of the state.

In a statement issued on January, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotosho, said that the riders must not ply 10 major highways and 40 bridges and flyovers across the state.

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36 State Governments Take FG To Supreme Court Over Court Funding

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The 36 states of the Federation on Monday took the Federal Government to the Supreme Court, challenging the presidential executive order signed in May by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The states are seeking an order of the Supreme Court to quash President Buhari’s executive order on the funding of courts, which he signed on May 20.

According to the states, Buhari’s executive order no. 00-10 of 2020 transferred the Federal Government’s responsibility of funding both the capital and recurrent expenditures of the state High Courts, Sharia Courts of Appeal, and the Customary Courts of Appeal, to the state governments.

They are contending that the order is a clear violation of sections 6 and 8(3) of the 1999 constitution, which makes it the responsibility of the federal government to fund the listed courts.

The 36 states, while claiming that they had been funding the capital projects in the listed courts since 2009, are also asking the Supreme Court to order the Federal Government to make a refund to them.

The suit was filed for the states by nine Senior Advocates of Nigeria, led by a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Augustine Alegeh.

Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami was listed as the sole respondent in the suit.

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Appeal Court Declines To Join Factional ANDP In Gov. Diri’s Appeal

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A move by a factional group of the Advanced Nigerian Democratic Party (ANDP) to join in Governor Douye Diri’s appeal against the judgment of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal on Monday, suffered a setback as the Court of Appeal in Abuja dismissed their request for being incompetent and lacking in merit.

Governor Diri had, last month, approached the appellate court to set aside the majority judgment of the tribunal which nullified the November 16, 2019, Bayelsa governorship election that brought him to power.

The nullification was predicated on the petition of the candidate of the ANDP in the November 16 governorship poll, Mr Lucky King-George, against his exclusion from the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The majority decision had upheld his argument that he was unlawfully excluded from the poll and subsequently ordered INEC to conduct a fresh poll in the state within 90 days.

However, when the matter came up on Monday, a lawyer, Mr Dominic Anyiador, announced appearance for the factional group led by its Chairman, Mr James Femowei, and drew the court’s attention to their application seeking to be joined as an interested party in the appeal filed by Governor Diri.

The applicants, which include the ANDP’s National Vice-Chairman, South-east, Barnabas Nwanguma; National Publicity Secretary, Fortune Oyadonghan; National Director NGO/Volunteers, Fred Ikhaghu; and Director Admin/Records, Linda Nyam, claimed to be the authentic faction of the ANDP.

They told the appellate court that they were unaware of the petition filed by the party challenging Diri’s election at the tribunal.

The applicants disclosed that the party did not conduct any primary election or fielded candidates for the governorship election, hence, their adoption and endorsement of Diri and his deputy, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, as its preferred candidates in the election.

They also claimed that Charles Ogboli, the national chairman of the party, who filed the petition, was expelled in 2018.

“The 1st respondent (ANDP) as a political party endorsed and adopted his excellency Senator Douye Diri and his deputy Lawrence Erhujakpor as its gubernatorial candidates in the said November 16, 2019 gubernatorial election conducted by the 3rd (INEC) respondent in Bayelsa State,” the application stated.

“The judgment of the lower court nullifying the election of the governor of Bayelsa State came to the interested parties and other members of the 1st respondent as a rude shock reason being that they were/are not aware of any pending suit by the 1st respondent against the governor of Bayelsa State bordering on his election held on the November 16, 2019.

“It was later learnt by the interested parties/other members of the 1st respondent that it was the sacked and expelled national chairman of the 1st respondent barrister Charles Ogboli that instituted the petition at the tribunal against the governor of Bayelsa State purportedly on behalf of the 1st respondent and its members,” their lawyer told the appellate court.

But in a quick objection, the lawyer to the Ogboli-led ANDP, Mr Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN), urged the court to dismiss the application on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction to take the motion not being an election matter but inter-party affair.

He also said the applicants cannot be joined to the suit at the appeal stage because they were not parties at the tribunal.

Also, Ogunwumiju said the applicants had failed to seek the leave of court before filing their application.

In a short ruling, a three-man panel of Justices led by Stephen Adah dismissed the request for joinder.

Adah said the application is “irrelevant, prejudicial and waste of judicial time”.

The court also ordered the applicants to pay N200,000 to each of the appellants as well as the respondents in the suit.

The court then adjourned till September 23 for hearing of all pending motions in the appeal.

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