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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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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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Ile Arugbo: Saraki Drags Kwara To Appeal Court, Seeks Stay Of Execution

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The Asa Investments Limited owned by the former Senate leader in the second republic National Assembly, late Dr. Olusola Saraki, and Alhaji Sanusi Baba-Eleku has filed a motion on notice before the Court of Appeal in Ilorin, requesting for an order for stay of execution against the ruling of the High Court of Kwara State.

Justice Abiodun Adebara had on August 6, 2020, delivered a ruling regarding the suit before the lower court on the disputed Ile Arugbo.

The trial court in its ruling vacated the interim injunction it had earlier granted in favour of the Asa Investment Limited to preserve Ile Arugbo, and maintain the status quo pending the determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction filed by the applicants.

The applicants in the motion on notice filed before the appellate court dated September 4, 2020, said Justice Adebara’s ruling of August 6 has the effect of empowering the respondents to destroy the subject matter (Ile Arugbo) of the suit.

The applicants also sought an order of the appellate court to stay proceedings in the suit on Ile Arugbo pending the hearing and determination of the appeal before it.

They also sought an “order of the appellate court restraining the respondents- Governor of Kwara State, state House of Assembly, Attorney General of the state, Director-General of the state Bureau of Lands and the Inspector General of Police (IG)-by themselves or through their servants, agents, privies or otherwise howsoever described, from taking any step or further step in recognition or in pursuance of the ruling of the state High Court delivered by Justice Adebara on August 6, in suit number: KWS/463/2019 pending the hearing and determination of the appeal lodged by the applicants against the said ruling.”

In the motion on notice filed by the applicants’ lawyers led by Dr. Akin Onigbinde (SAN), the applicants averred that “it is in the interest of justice to preserve the subject matter of the suit (Ile Arugbo).

The counsel, among other grounds for application, said: “The applicants had earlier filed an application for leave to appeal before the trial court on August 13, 2020, but the said application was not heard until the time the appeal lapsed.

“The applicants have subsequently filed another application for leave before this court on September 4, 2020.“The applicants will suffer substantial loss if the said ruling of August 6, 2020, and the proceedings in suit number KWS/463/209 before the trial court are not stayed.”

The appellate court acknowledged the receipt of the applicants’ motion on notice on September 8, 2020.

The appellate court has however not fixed a date for its hearing.

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Rivers Strike Threat: Labour Leaders Absent As Industrial Court Adjourns Suit To Sept 18

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The National Industrial Court sitting in Lagos has adjourned till Friday, September 18, to hear all applications relating to the Rivers State Government’s suit seeking the interpretation of the provisions of the Trade Unions Act.

The court is sitting as a vacation court to hear the suit.

The Rivers State Govt had filed the suit to challenge the threat by the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress to embark on a strike action starting from Monday, September 7.

The government listed the two unions, their presidents, Comrade Ayuba Waba and Quadri Olaleye, as well as the Rivers state chairpersons, Beatrice Itubo and Austin Jonah as defendants in the suit.

The defendants were not present in court, but the Rivers State Attorney General, Professor Zaccheus Adangor who represented the state government told the court that all the defendants have been duly served with the originating processes and the motion on notice for an interlocutory injunction, along with last week’s enrolled order of interim injunction restraining the defendants from going on strike, which have all been published in two national newspapers of September the 3rd as directed by the court.

Read Also: Organised Labour Suspends Planned Protest In Rivers State

He also told the judge about an out-of court-agreement reached Monday night after a closed-door meeting with Governor Nyesom Wike which resulted in organised labour calling off their planned protest against the Rivers State Government on Tuesday,

Vacation judge, Justice Nelson Ogbunaya discountenanced the information and asked the AG to focus on the suit especially as the defendants who would have corroborated the information were not in court.

Justice Ogbunaya also noted that the 14-day period for the defendants to respond and put in their appearance will expire on September 17.

He, therefore, adjourned further hearings to September 18.

This is the second legal action of the Rivers state government against organised labour.

Judgment in the first case against a previous plan of the state NLC to go on strike in March will be delivered on September 29 at the Port Harcourt division of the court.

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