ENUGU MAGISTRACY SAGA: ‘MY STORY,’ BY ‘REMANDED’ LAWYER

MR. FIDELIS OKEKE is the lawyer in the eye of the storm. He was reportedly remanded by His Worship, Ezeobi Ngozi Anidi (Mrs.), a Chief Magistrate sitting at Agbogugu Magistrates Court in Enugu State, in lieu of his client. In this no-holds-barred interview with CITY LAWYER, he chronicles the eventful proceedings that have caught the attention of the nation’s legal community

Please briefly introduce yourself
I’m Okeke Chinweze Fidelis Esq., also known as F. C. Okeke Esq. I am a legal practitioner of No. 33 Ogui Road, Enugu. I wish to state my ugly experience at the Magistrate Court, Agbogugu on 16th March, 2021 where I was detained by the magistrate for inexplicable reasons.

We understand you were remanded by a magistrate due to the absence of your client. How true is this?
On 15th March, 2021, the Registrar of the Court by name Austin called me and informed me that the Magistrate told him to fix Charge No. CMA/12C/2017 for 16th March, 2021.

Immediately, I called my client who informed me that he was in Lagos. My client pleaded that I should represent him. On 16th March, 2021, the matter was called and both the Prosecutor and myself announced our appearances. I told the Learned Magistrate that the Registrar just informed me about the matter the previous day, that I called my client immediately but he was not around.

The Prosecutor did not object. As we were about to take date, the Learned Magistrate said, ‘Oh, I remember this case! This is the case I made an order and the accused is disobeying.’ The Magistrate started writing, after which she read what she wrote.
In her Ruling, she read that “the Court should be acknowledged and now justice and not a play house. In the regard the Counsel for the accused will remain in Police custody upon the production of his client.”

However, lawyers like Onwe Vincent Esq. (0803772xxxx), Gladys Ani and C. C. Agu (0803435xxxx) were in court, including the Prosecutor, Innocent Egbuaba (ASP).

The trending order has been cited as fake. How true is this?
Those who regard the order in circulation as fake are enemies of justice. On 16th March the order was made. I applied for the Record of Proceedings. If I go to MTN, I can get (call record) evidence that from that 16th March, 2021 the Registrar continued delaying to issue me the record and the ruling until 25th March, 2021.

I paid for the record of proceedings and a receipt was issued to me in regards to that. I have the receipt as evidence that I processed the Proceedings and the Ruling. Whatever that makes any person(s) to classify a genuine Order of Court as fake is strange to me. The person(s) can produce another one to contradict the one I have.
Again, those who regard the Order as fake ought to have verified if the signature in the Proceedings is that of a staff of Magistrate Court Agbogugu designated to sign such processes. I deem the allegation that the Order is “FAKE ” as laughable.

Tell us briefly about the facts of the case
The fact is that the Complainant is the step-sister of the accused (my client). The Complainant reported at Agbogugu Police that the accused person demolished her (complainant’s) father’s house and built a Duplex. The complainant claimed that her property inside was valued about N7 million. The accused was charged to court. Upon the accused’s arraignment, he was granted bail and the condition fulfilled by the accused person’s surety (not myself). Subsequently, trial commenced. PW1 testified and was cross examined.

On the day the matter was adjourned for PW2 to testify, the Prosecutor made an application for the accused person to give the Complainant one room in his (accused) house. The application was granted. Dissatisfied with the Order, the accused filed an action for judicial review, challenging the Order for Possession made by the Magistrate in a criminal matter.

The High Court, Awgu delivered Judgment against the accused person. Dissatisfied again, the accused filed a Notice of Appeal and Stay of Execution. The Stay of Execution is still pending at the High Court, Awgu in Suit No. HAW/2019.

On 8th December, 2020 the Magistrate – without any application before her – remanded the accused for contempt of court. Dissatisfied, the accused approached High Court, Awgu and was granted bail.

At Awgu High Court, the accused applied for the Order to be quashed based on INEC and Ejike Oguebego where the Supreme Court (coram Nweze JSC) held that where a defendant in a cause challenges the validity of an Order directed against him, either by way of an appeal or other application, he cannot be proceeded against for contempt of that order unless and until the issue of its legality is settled. Nweze JSC further held that for contempt exfacia curiae, a charge and plea are necessary and the accused is entitled to fair hearing.

Sadly, as if the Learned Magistrate had the intention to remand the defendant’s Counsel, at the bottom of the Order I secured, surprisingly the Magistrate wrote: “defendant council (sic) is to be put in Oji custody until he complies.”

In fact, one of the Judges at High Court, Awgu saw the order and started laughing and jokingly asked, ‘Counsel, why are you here instead of Oji Prison.’ Other lawyers started laughing.
The application the accused made was first ex parte and for stay of all actions; this was granted. After service of the processes, including hearing notice, the respondents didn’t oppose; in short, the lawyer to the Complainant at the lower court said that he was not opposed to the application. The High Court Awgu presided over by His Lordship N. Orji delivered judgment in favour of the accused on 25/3/21.

In the judgment, the remand of the accused without any contempt proceedings was quashed and the charge was transferred to Awgu Magistrates’ Court. The High Court Registrar said that the CTC of the Judgment will be ready this week.

Is it true that the remand order was discharged by the magistrate?
The lawyers I mentioned earlier pleaded for the Magistrate to discharge the Order but she refused initially. However, when the Magistrate finished all her matters, the lawyers continued begging until she read again that the Order was discharged. One of the lawyers had pleaded that instead of detaining a lawyer, a Bench Warrant be issued against the accused. The Magistrate then issued a Bench Warrant against the accused.

Surprisingly, when I got the Order from the Registrar, there was no discharge or Warrant of Arrest Order contained therein. Immediately, I asked the Registrar of the Court if that was the only thing on record and he said yes. I tried to find if he omitted some pages but he was firm that there was nothing more on the record of the Court for that day.

We understand the accused had a contempt order hanging on his head which had not been discharged. Could that be a reason the court was aggravated by his absence?
It is very interesting to point out that there is no contempt proceeding/charge against the accused person. The accused was always in court except that day that I was given a short notice. I immediately called the accused but he told me that he was not in town.

Could your attitude to the court have compelled the remand order on you?
I had never exhibited any unusual conduct in the Court, including the day the incident occurred. Ask lawyers that are always in the court. I had never behaved in any way that could have led to such incident. I never behaved in any reprehensible manner. My conducts have been that of a diligent lawyer.

We understand the order was promptly discharged by the magistrate, and that you suffered no hardship ultimately. Is this correct?
I maintain that I am still surprised that the Learned Magistrate purportedly feigned to have discharged the Order when she was about to rise because when she made the Order, lawyers in the court pleaded for her to discharge the Order but she refused. I had no option than to sit in the court hall because I was aware that an Order was made against me. When she finished all matters in the cause list, lawyers continued begging the Learned Magistrate; then she purportedly read that the Order was discharged and I was able to leave the court.

What is in circulation was the document the Registrar issued to me and nothing less or more. The document is genuine and I paid for it. In fact, the Order made by the Learned Magistrate is worse than the one in issue. I am also ready to produce all the documents I mentioned in connection with this case.

We understand that the matter has been transferred to another court. How does that make you feel?
From all indications, even the High Court Awgu saw reasons to transfer the matter; but all in all, I suffered because after the Order, I would have gone because I was supposed to go for check-up at the 82 Division Hospital due to my illness but I stayed until the court rose and read that I was discharged.

Given that the remand order was discharged by the court and that the matter is no longer before the magistrate, some may accuse you of seeking cheap publicity or sensationalizing the issue. What is your reaction to that?
Despite that the discharge order is not contained in paper circulating, I was purportedly discharged in the presence of the lawyers that pleaded. If I wasn’t discharged, will it be said that I disobeyed the Court or why did the police in Court not arrest me? Even the Complainant whom the Prosecutor said was in Lagos later appeared and was jubilating. I feel that some information can on interrogation come from the Complainant.

Before the paper even started circulating, I told many lawyers about my ugly experience in the court and how I was remanded. Also on the 25th of March, 2021, I informed my Lord N. Orji about how I was detained by the Learned Magistrate. On the same day, I applied for CTC of the proceedings, yet till date the Registrar has been telling me to come today, come tomorrow; though that can’t be a much barrier to me. I posted this issue in my ESUT LAW CLASS 05 WhatsApp group on 24/3/21 while we were discussing about the remand of an Abuja lawyer by the group.

The trending ruling does not show you were really discharged. Do you plan to take steps to remedy this?
As it stands now, it is obvious that the Order has not been discharged. My liberty is at stake because once it is an Order of a court, it is subsisting until discharged.

 

 

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