Okutepa Berates NBA-NEC for Ratifying Oduah’s Suspension

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Mr. Jibrin Okutepa SAN has berated the Nigerian Bar Association National Executive Council (NBA-NEC) for ratifying the suspension of erstwhile General Secretary Joyce Oduah.

In a statement issued by the legal luminary, he stated that “NBA has exhibited the worst example of disrespect for the rule of law and showed total disrespect to the pending processes filed by Mrs Joyce Oduah, Challenging her suspension.”

He also chided NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata for presiding over the meeting where the decision was taken, saying: “I think NBA in this case was in a fatal error rooted in self-help to have rectified the suspension being challenged in court. Court processes may be slow, but as professional association we have a duty to show example. Here NBA under Olumide Akpata failed fatally flat in the test for respect for the rule of law and due process when he presided over and took decision that showed lack of respect for our judicial process. We must respect our courts otherwise anarchy is being invited.”

The NBA National Officers had in a unanimous decision resolved to suspend Oduah from her position, accusing her of gross misconduct. Akpata recused himself from the meeting, given his face-off with Oduah. The National Officers had also resolved to recommend Oduah to the NBA-NEC for “removal from office for gross misconduct.”

Below is the full text of the post:

If the news I read of the just concluded National Executive Council, of NBA that the suspension of Mrs Joyce Oduah as General Secretary of NBA has been rectified, is true, then the National Executive Council of NBA has exhibited the worst example of disrespect for the rule of law and showed total disrespect to the pending processes filed by Mrs Joyce Oduah, Challenging her suspension.

There is no dispute that Mrs Joyce Oduah, had gone to the Federal High Court to challenge her suspension by the NEC of NBA. Those who took part in the said suspension have been sued. There was a motion for injunction pending and which NBA and incorporated Trustees of NBA are aware of. The case is suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/1426/2022. It was adjourned to 23rd August 2022. NBA President Mr Akpata was in Court when the case was adjourned. The case seeks injunction against her suspension and taking any decision to rectify her suspension from office as General Secretary. I am not in support of misconduct alleged against Mrs Joyce Oduah. I am not and I will not if all those allegations or facts alleged against her are true.

But that is another matter altogether. But can NBA whose foremost motto is promoting the rule of law engage in self-help to rectify actions being challenged ed in court. I do not think so. That decision to ratify her suspension is a bad example coming from an association that should be the vanguard of, protection of and promotion of the rule of law. Our courts have consistently frown at resorts to self-help to undermine pending processes.

The principle is settled that the Court cannot be hamstrung by a party who changes the status quo during litigation. Thus, if a party cannot prove its case, the Court is not obliged to indulge the party because it had changed its position during litigation and it may suffer the consequences if the case is resolved against such a party. In consequence, a party who resorts to self-help cannot enjoy any favour from the Court.

That is the essence of the dictum of Nnaemeka-Agu JSC as he then was, in Registered Trustees Apostolic Church v. Olowoleni (1990) 4 NWLR (Pt.1580) 514 at 537 where he said: “Once parties have turned their dispute over to the Courts for determinations, the right to resort to self-help ends. So it is not permissible for one of the parties to take any step during the pendency of the suit which may have the effect of fostering upon a Court a situation of complete helplessness or which may give the impression that the Court is being used as a mere subterfuge to tie the hands of one party while the party helps himself extra judicially. Both parties are to wait the result of the litigation and the appropriate order of Court before acting further.

My lord Hon Justice Nweze JCA as he then was spoke eloquently to the point I am making when he said: “Above all, it has long been settled on the authorities that a court would not hesitate to invoke its disciplinary powers to prevent its processes from being used as a mere subterfuge. Thus, once parties have turned their dispute over to the courts for determination, the resort to self-help must end. Thenceforth, it would not be permissible for one of the parties to take any step during the pendency of the suit which may have the effect of foisting upon the court a situation of complete helplessness. Indeed, a court would always look with askance at any disingenuous approach which may give the impression that it is being used as a mere subterfuge to tie the hands of one party while the other party helps himself extra-judicially. Both parties are expected to await the result of the litigation and the appropriate order of court before acting further. As such, it is a reprehensible conduct for any party to an action or appeal, pending in court, to proceed to take the law into his hands without any specific order of the court and to do any act which would pre-empt the result of the action. The courts frown against such a conduct and would always invoke their disciplinary powers to restore the status quo, Registered Trustees, Apostolic Church v Olowoleni (1990) 6 NWLR (pt 158) 514; Combined Trade Ltd v A.S.T.B. Ltd. (1995) 6 NWLR (pt. 404) 709; Ezegbu v. F.A.T.B. Ltd. (1992) 1 NWLR (pt.220) 699. This ancient rule is even more cogent in a constitutional democracy such as ours where the Judiciary operates as “the guardian of the Constitution”. In the discharge of its guardianship role, it has a duty to ensure that every arm of Government operates only within the substantive and procedural frameworks which the Constitution ordains, AG Bendel v AG Federation [1983] ANLR 208.” Per NWEZE, JCA as he then was now JSC at PP. 40-41, paras. E-F in HON JUSTICE T. A. OYEYEMI (RTD) & ORS V. HON TIMOTHY OWOEYE & ANOR (2012) LPELR-19695(CA).

NBA does not end with the tenure of Olumide Akpata as President. Why will NBA not wait and respect the pending processes which it was aware of and had engaged some senior lawyers to defend. The dispute in this matter having been handed over to the Court for determination, NBA and National Executive Council cannot be allowed to take the law into their own hands. The rule of law and the rule of force are mutually exclusive. Law rules by reason and morality. Force rules by violence and immorality. See The Military Governor of Lagos State & Anor. vs. Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu & Anor. (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt. 18) 621. A similar action was deprecated by the Supreme Court in The Military Governor of Lagos State v. Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (supra), wherein Obaseki, J.S.C. As h/e then was stated as follows: “In the area where the rule of law operates, the rule of self-help by force is abandoned. Nigeria being one of the countries in the world which proclaim loudly to follow the rule of law, there is no room for the rule of self-help by force to operate. Once a dispute has arisen between a person and the government or authority and the dispute has been brought before Court, thereby invoking the judicial powers of the State, it is the duty of the government to allow the law to take its course or allow the legal and judicial process to run its full course. The action the Lagos State Government took can have no other interpretation than the show of the intention to pre-empt the decision of the Court. The Courts expect the utmost respect of the law from the government itself which rules by the law.”

As my lord Amina Angie JCA as he the was said in DUMBILI NWADIAJUEBOWE VS COL. C. D. NWAWO (RTD.) & ORS (2003) LPELR-7234(CA): As the Supreme Court observed in Ojukwu’s case, the judiciary cannot shirk its sacred responsibility to the nation to maintain the rule of law, and the law should be evenhanded between the government and citizens. What was the hurry? I do not see what the Delta State Government had to lose if it had waited for the substantive case to be decided before it published the Legal Notice. The law is trite that once the Court is seised of a matter, no party has a right to take the matter into his own hands. See The Military Governor of Lagos State v. Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (supra), Regd. Trustees Apostolic Church v. Olowoleni (supra), & Bedding Holdings Ltd. v. N.E.C. (supra). It must be repeated, no one (including Government) is entitled to take the law into his own hands. The learned trial Judge was therefore right to have made the injunctive orders granted.”

I think NBA in this case was in a fatal error rooted in self-help to have rectified the suspension being challenged in court. Court processes may be slow, but as professional association we have a duty to show example. Here NBA under Olumide Akpata failed fatally flat in the test for respect for the rule of law and due process when he presided over and took decision that showed lack of respect for our judicial process. We must respect our courts otherwise anarchy is being invited.

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