Scores of litigants, including lawyers and witnesses, on Wednesday left the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Nyanya, Abuja, disappointed after the judge, Peter Kekemeke, cancelled the day’s sitting due to a power outage.
There were, at least, 11 cases in the cause list slated for fresh hearing, the continuation of hearing, or a final ruling.
As early as 8.30 a.m., legal counsels and their witnesses had trooped into the courtroom located in the outskirts of the FCT ready for the day’s business.
But the courtroom was in darkness even as they settled down to await the arrival of the judge.
By 9 a.m. when the court was supposed to commence sitting officially, there was no sign of Justice Kekemeke making his entrance to the courtroom.
Despite his arrival in the premises much earlier, PREMIUM TIMES learnt he remained in his office.
A few minutes after 9 O’clock, Justice Kekemeke came in to make an announcement.
“Gentlemen, it appears we will not be able to sit today. I am informed by my staff that there is no electricity because there is an issue with the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC).
“Besides, there is no diesel to run the generator. It is obvious we have to take a date and come back when electricity supply has been resolved,” Justice Kekemeke said.
He did not say for how long it would take for the problem to be resolved for normal court sittings to resume.
However, after a brief consultation with the lawyers and court staff, sitting in the case attended by the reporter was adjourned to February 26, 2020.
An embarrassing, disgraceful development
Most lawyers who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES over the development expressed disappointment over what they called “an embarrassing and disgraceful display of negligence and incompetence in the management of the court in the FCT.”
Most of the lawyers who expressed their anger and frustration over the matter requested that their identities should not be revealed to avoid victimization.
One of the lawyers, who said he came from Enugu the previous day to attend the court sitting, said there was nothing new in what happened.
“This is not a new development in Abuja. The management of the judiciary system in the FCT is a disappointment. It will happen again because nobody has been sanctioned for failure to do his or her work.
“In this case, nobody can blame the judge. There is nothing he could have done, as he was not expected to use his personal money to buy diesel for the generator to ensure the court sat. Nobody does that.
“The blame is squarely on the management of the judiciary in FCT, responsible for providing the logistics for the proper functioning of the court,” the lawyer said.
Another lawyer, who also declined to give his name for fear of being harassed by the authorities, said when one considers the man-hours wasted in the court not sitting for one day, one would appreciate the impact on the overall administration of justice.
For instance, he said, apart from some of the cases running for several years, the lawyers in each of the 11 cases that were listed for the day’s sitting must have left other businesses they should have done to come to court.
“Besides, some may have risked long journeys from outside jurisdiction, some outside the country, paid monies for their accommodations in hotels, only to arrive at the court to be told, without any prior notice, that the court would not sit because of an unresolved issue with an electricity distribution company, or no money to buy diesel for its generator.
“It is sad. It is a shame and gross incompetence on the part of the FCT judiciary management. Our government officials have to be a little bit serious with the way they play with people’s lives. As it stands, the parties involved in the various cases may be losing not less than N5 million,” the lawyer said.
One adjournment too many
One of the cases that was listed for hearing on Wednesday was the N170 million contract fraud case against top officials of Zinox Technologies Limited and its subsidiary, Technology Distributions Limited.
The officials were accused by an Ibadan-based computer retailer, Benjamin Joseph, of hijacking and illegally executing the contract awarded to his company, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, by the FIRS in 2012.
Mr Joseph petitioned the police in October 2013 to accuse the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Zinox Group and Technology Distributions Limited, TD, Chris Ozims, and a director of TD, Folashade Oyebode, of involvement in the crime.
The two top officials were accused of conspiring with two members of a fraud syndicate, Onny Igbokwe, and Princess Kama, to commit the fraud.
Mr Joseph said the suspects committed the fraud by using a fake account they opened at Access Bank with forged documents of his company, including a fake Board Resolution that appointed them “managers of the account.”
To facilitate payment for the contract, Mr Joseph said the suspects approached officials of the Awolowo Road, Ikoyi branch of Access Bank (Messrs Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu) who released to them the original copies of documents used by Citadel Oracle to open its corporate account.
To open the controversial account, Mr Joseph said a fake board resolution purportedly issued by Citadel Oracle management was procured, with Messrs Ozims, Oyebode and Igbokwe conferred the power of attorney to act as “directors” of the company and authorized signatories to the account.
Although the accused closed their case since 2018, Mr Joseph was scheduled to open his own on Wednesday after several long adjournments.