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Judge declines to recuse herself from ex-ministers libel suit

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Judge declines to recuse herself from ex-ministers libel suit

Justice Keziah Ogbonnaya of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, on Monday, refused to recuse herself from a libel suit filed by a former Nigerian foreign affairs minister, Geoffrey Onyeama.

In the said suit, Onyeama claimed that a career ambassador in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lillian Onoh, who is also a sister to his former wife, for libel, allegedly defamed him in a series of memos she sent to him while he was the minister.

But in the middle of the proceedings, Mrs. Onoh accused the trial judge of bias against her and urged her to hand off the case and return the case file to the Chief Judge for reassignment to another judge.

When the matter resumed on Monday, counsel to Mrs Onoh, Richard Aneke, asked the judge to recuse herself from the case based on his client’s instruction.

Aneke drew Justice Ogbonnaya’s attention to a pending petition before the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, seeking a reassignment of the case to another judge.

Ms Onoh also petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC), asking it to carry out disciplinary against the judge for being overtly partial in her handling of the suit.

Mrs Onoh’s grouse with the judge is that she hails from Enugu State, where Mr Onyeama comes from.

The defendant also argued that the claimant had hatched a plan with the judge to rob her of justice.

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But in her ruling on Monday, Justice Ogbonnaya said she was assigned the suit by the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, Hussein Baba-Yusuf.

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The defendant had accused Mr. Onyeama of influencing the transfer of the case from Eleojo Enenche to Justice Ogbonnaya, to get a favourable decision.

“No judge assigns cases himself, it is the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court that assigns cases. It is the same Chief Judge that tells a judge to stop hearing a particular case.

“Unless and until the Chief Judge sends a copy of the petition to me for response, this case will go on.

“Since the Chief Judge has not ordered for the reassignment of this case, this matter shall continue in this court. That is the order of this court,” Justice Ogbonnaya explained.

Acknowledging the presence of journalists at the proceedings, the judge advised Mr Aneke and “emissaries in the courtroom” to convey the court’s order to Ms Onoh.

“The emissaries take this message to her that this court has ordered that this matter shall go on and this judge will not recuse herself. She did not assign the case to me. This matter shall continue to go,” Justice Ogbonnaya said.

Onyeama’s lawyer expresses shock over petition

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Mr Onyeama who served in former President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime for nearly eight years attended Monday’s proceedings.

His lawyer, Agada Elachi, expressed surprise at Ms Onoh’s allegation of bias against the judge.

“I am shocked to hear this from the defense lawyer. It is within counsel’s right to say what he has said, but the purported petition in its entirety is based on hearsay,” Mr Elachi, a SeniorAdvocate of Nigeria (SAN) said.

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He said the defendant had never witnessed the judge conduct proceedings in the case.

“She has never had any opportunity of witnessing my lord conduct proceedings to show that this court is biased.”

Mr Elachi argued that there was no legal basis for Justice Ogbonnaya to recuse herself from continuing to hear the case.

He further contended that Ms Onoh’s petition was “a ploy to frustrate the hearing of this matter.”

While acknowledging that it was within the Chief Judge’s purview to consider the petition, Mr Elachi contended that “there is no law that requires my lord to stop proceedings in this matter.

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“We urge the court to continue with the proceedings pending when the truth of this petition will be unravelled,” Elachi said.

Monday’s hearing was earlier fixed for the adoption of final written addresses, signalling the end of the suit before judgement is handed down.

But the defence lawyer informed the court of pending requests bothering on extension of time to file Ms Onoh’s defence statement out of time and to allow her testify before the judge via Zoom.

Thereafter, Mr Aneke said he could no longer continue with the case because of Ms Ogbonnaya’s refusal to withdraw from the matter.

Subsequently, the judge asked Mr Aneke if he was abandoning his client’s pending applications, which he said no.

“I have my client’s instruction not to proceed with the case, should my lord refuse to recuse herself from the matter. Regarding the motions, I am not abandoning my motions,” Mr Aneke said.

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In his response to the issue, Mr Elachi, prayed the court to dismiss the applications on account of Mr Aneke’s intention to withdraw from the case.

In another short ruling, Justice Ogbonnaya said the “pending motions are deemed to have been moved” by Mr Aneke despite his fierce objection to the judge’s continued handling of the case.

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“It is the view of this court that since the motions are before the court, the court deems them moved by the 1st defendant’s counsel,” the judge said.

The judge went to reject Mr Aneke’s request for an adjournment to enable him confer with Ms Onoh concerning the application for recusal which the judge declined.

Mr Elachi had sought a N50,000 fine against Mr Aneke for seeking an adjournment.

He said he would only agree for an adjournment if the judge adjourned until Thursday, December 14, which the judge reversed herself, and adjourned the case.

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Yahaya Bello: AGF backs EFCC, warns those obstructing agency from performing its lawful duty

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Prince Lateef Fagbemi AGF

Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi SAN, has warned public officials both serving and non serving to desist from obstructing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from carrying out it’s statutory operations.

Prince Fagbemi was reacting to news making the rounds in media space that former Governor of Kogi state, Yahaya Bello, has been obstructing the EFCC in it’s attempt to arrest him.

The AGF said “The bizarre drama confronting the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in the course of its efforts to perform its statutory duty has come to his notice.”

He described such situation “as a matter of very grave concern”.

The Justice Minister warned that the EFCC under the establishing law, has the legal right to invite, arrest or prosecute any person without minding status.

“It is now beyond doubt that the EFCC is given power by the law to invite any person of interest to interact with them in the course of their investigation into any matter regardless of status.

“Therefore, the least that we can all do when invited, is not to put any obstruction in the way of EFCC but to honourably answer their invitation.

“A situation where public officals who are themselves subject of protection by law enforcement agents will set up a stratagem of obstruction to the civil and commendable efforts of the EFCC to perform its duty is to say the least, insufferably disquieting.

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“A flight from the law does not resolve issues at stake but only exacerbates it” the AGF warned.

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In a statement on Thursday, Prince Fagbemi stated unequivocally that he stands for the rule of law and will promptly call EFCC and indeed any other agency to order when there is indication of any transgression of the fundamental rights of any Nigerian by any of the agencies.

The AGF’s press release was titled: “EFCC SHOULD NOT BE OBSTRUCTED FROM PERFORMING ITS LAWFUL DUTY”.

However, he tenaciously held the view that institutions of State should be allowed to function effectively and efficiently.

Nigeria, he said, has a vibrant judicial system that is capable of protecting everyone who follows the rule of law in seeking protection.

“I encourage anyone who has been invited by the EFCC or any other agency to immediately toe the path of decency and civility by honouring such invitation instead of embarking on a temporising self-help and escapism that can only put our country in bad light before the rest of the world” the AGF stated.

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Junior Pope: South East filmmakers protest in Enugu

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• Protesting Southeast filmmakers
Different groups involved in filmmaking under the auspices of South East Film Crew Welfare, Wednesday afternoon, took to the street protesting the manner five of their members died after a boat conveying them to shooting location capsized in Anambra River.

Junior Pope, Abigail Frederick, Precious Oforum, Joseph Anointing and Friday Okoroafor, all lost their lives in the unfortunate incident.

Members of Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), Creative Designers Guild of Nigeria (CDGN) in Enugu State and others marched on the streets of Enugu metropolis from Okpara Square, Independence Layout, through Rangers Avenue, Bissala Road and terminated at Film Arena, National Museum.

A candle light procession was slated in honour of the fallen heroes and heroines.

Their spokesperson, Jonas Onunweze, a props and set designer, condemned the treatment given to artistes and other Nollywood crew members by film producers.

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Yoruba Nation: Those threatening Nigeria’s sovereignty have price to pay, Tinubu warns

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Yoruba Nation: Those threatening Nigeria’s sovereignty have price to pay, Tinubu warns
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu

–As he receives Afenifere leaders

—Says he’s resolute in achieving economic security

PRESIDENT Bola Tinubu on Wednesday gave a strong warning to ethnic agitators, saying that those who think they can threaten the sovereignty of Nigeria will have a price to pay.

President Tinubu also  said that his administration remained undeterred in its pursuit of comprehensive economic security for the country while addressing foundational challenges and creating a fair and equitable system in which all Nigerians can thrive.

Speaking when he received leaders of Afenifere, the respected Yoruba Socio-Cultural Organization, at the State House in Abuja, the President said his administration is re-engineering Nigeria’s finances and seeking to boost the purchasing power of citizens, and spread prosperity down the line, by instituting a credit system where the element of cash is not an impediment to a significantly enhanced standard of living for all citizens.

He said Nigeria must secure itself economically first before it can achieve any of its more sophisticated objectives.

The President in a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Chief Ajuri Ngelale, was quoted as saying, ‘’We are committed to the economic survival of our country. To re-engineer the finances of our country, we must start in earnest. So first, retool, revamp the economic opportunities available, and resolve to continue taking the firm and steady baby steps that are necessary.

‘’Education is a strong weapon against poverty. To empower the people, we must invest in the future of our youths. We have seen the problems parents face in training their children in school; it is the reason why we established the National Student Loan Programme, which is taking off well.

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‘’We are equally examining what to do with the high degree of unemployment. We must help vulnerable people by providing social security. We are looking at how to provide allowances for the unemployed, and we are developing ways to boost the purchasing power of citizens with the Consumer Credit Scheme. If we remove the cash upfront element to buy a car or a house, we will reduce the propensity for fraud and corruption across the land,’’ President Tinubu said.

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Speaking on security, the President declared that those who threaten the sovereignty of Nigeria would pay a heavy price.

The President threat is coming on the heels of the recent report in which some people from the South West embarked on agitation for Yoruba nation.

Tinubu said, ‘’I am irrevocably committed to the unity of Nigeria and constitutional democracy.Constitutional democracy is reflected greatly here since we assumed office. What we face now is the challenge of terrorism. Security of life and property is very necessary for development. I can tell you we are achieving success. We have degraded terrorism to a level that they cannot threaten the sovereignty of Nigeria any longer.

‘’Banditry and kidnapping will be defeated. And there is no payment of ransom whatsoever. We are taking the battle to them. We are getting results more rapidly than before. We are working hard on intelligence gathering. Those who think they can threaten the sovereignty of Nigeria will have themselves to blame. They have a price to pay. And we are not going to relent.”

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The President thanked the esteemed delegation for their prayers and support, assuring them that he would not relent in his resolve to advance Nigeria.

‘’God bless Nigeria. God bless our unity; our diversity must bring prosperity for all for the sake of Nigeria,’’ President Tinubu concluded.

Earlier in his remarks, His Royal Majesty, Oba Olu Falae commended the President for his courageous decisions and for the rehabilitation of the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, as well as other critical ongoing projects.

He urged the President not to relent in ensuring fairness and equity for all Nigerians while noting the importance of a constitutional amendment to devolve more powers to the states.

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‘’We are delighted about what you are doing for our country, and we assure you of our continued support. We thank you for your visit to Akure in February 2024, and we believe it is right and proper to reciprocate your kind gesture. We appreciate this relationship, and we need to make it work in the interest of Nigeria.

‘’Mr. President, you are the leader of Nigeria now and the most important political figure in Africa. We expect you, in view of your legacy and pedigree, to lead our country with knowledge, courage, and integrity. We have no doubt that your tenure will mark a turning point in the history of our country. Under your leadership, Nigeria will be repositioned.

‘’We will stand by you as you make all efforts to change the Nigeria story for the better. Be assured Afenifere will not abandon you in fair or foul weather. As long as you remain faithful to the principles of fairness, integrity, and courage that is expected of you as the leader of Nigeria, we will stand by you,’’ Oba Falae said.

SEE ALSO:  FG names 15 terrorism financiers, BDCs, plans sanctions

The delegation was led by Pa Reuben Fasoranti, leader of Afenifere; Oba Falae, alongside other eminent citizens.

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