By Anthony Isibor
MICHAEL O. Ihemaguba, a New York based medical practitioner, is having a firsthand experience of the injustice that is prevalent in the judiciary system in Nigeria, especially at the magistrate court level. For the past four years, Ihemaguba, who hails from Imo State, has been pursuing justice at the Magistrate Court One presided over by Chijioke Nwogu, chief magistrate at Osisioma, Abia State.
The worst is that after the long drawn case was concluded and the counsels for the plaintiff and defendant closed their addresses more than one and half years ago, the chief magistrate is yet to give judgement on the case. Realnews reports that the Nigerian law states that ruling in a case lawyers have concluded addresses must be given within three months.
Worried that the magistrate has failed to give judgement on the case and also the fact that he was billed to retire soon, Ihemaguba had no choice but to petition Justice Onuoha Arisa Kalu Ogwe, chief judge of Abia State.
He chronicled his ugly experience in a petition he sent to Ogwe, chief justice of the Abia State Judiciary in Umuahia.
In the petition dated January 13, 2021, which was made available to Realnews on September 24, Ihemaguba stated that he brought to the attention of the chief justice what he considered to be “a gross unfairness and miscarriage of justice which is going on in a lower court” under his jurisdiction.
According to the petition, Ihemaguba has a case against one Gaius Anyanwu. which is at the Osisioma Court one, Aba.
The case has to do with his property located at No.1 Shalome Street in Aba, which was rented by Anyanwu, who paid N400,000 for many years on a yearly basis. Subsequently the rent was increased to N600,000 yearly on a verbal agreement in 2013. The rent was due on the first week of January yearly. From 2013, Anyanwu began to skip payment of rent, adducing all sorts of excuses while the rent accumulated for three years without payment.
The petition stated that in 2016, after owing N1.8 million for three, Anyanwu’s stepped in and paid N1 million on behalf of his father while no further payments were made after that until now. This means that in addition to the outstanding N800,000, Anyanwu for the next five years (Cross Check).
According to the petition, in 2017, Ihemaguba spoke to his tenant who agreed to vacate the premises because he could not afford the place and he needed to move so that the landlord could rent out the apartment. The landlord also explained to Anyanwu that he needed to repair the ground floor of the storey building which was defective, adding that the building engineers advised him that in order to correct the problem, the person upstairs (Mr. Anyanwu) needed to vacate, because the upstairs will be affected in the repair work.
“I made him aware of this. He did agree to move, but said he will do so only after he clears the arrears of his rent. I urged him to move anyway, and we can sort out the rent later, but he refused. Again, he continued not to pay rent. With time, I found out, and correctly so, that while he was not paying rent, he was busy building his own house, which he finished a few months ago and moved in,” Ihemaguba stated in his petition to the chief justice.
According to him, in 2017, he sued Anyanwu in the court to make him pay the rent arrears and also to be able to renovate the house and rent it out again.
However, Ihemaguba’s experiences with the courts have been both frustrating and regrettable.
He said: “Regrettable, because I had been advised to address this issue by employing the help of local boys to go and throw his things out, but I chose to go the legal route instead. Frustrating, because this case has languished in the courts for four years. It is presently in the hands of the third Magistrate, and each one that took over the case started afresh. This case is presently at Osisioma Court 1 at Aba, in the hands of Magistrate C.A. Nwogu, who doesn’t seem to have any interest in bringing it to a conclusion. He’s been promising to render judgment for close to a year now, and that has not happened.
The petition alleged that “The defendant and his legal team have been granted all sorts of motions, adjournments, and postponements for ridiculous reasons. For instance, the court had ruled that the defendant will not be held responsible for any revenue that I lost from the ground floor apartments, because he occupied only upstairs. This is in spite of the fact that the inability to rent out the ground floor was because I could not correct the construction errors on that floor, which in turn was because he refused to move.”
Ihemaguba said: “Presentations have been completed for a very long time, and yet each court appearance sees another adjournment, instead of a judgment. In the meantime, I continue to pay legal fees while not having received a single kobo. As a result of this magistrate’s attitude to this case, rumours are now rife that tribal jingoism is at play. And this is because both the magistrate and the defendant are both Ngwa citizens.”
“So my Lord, I feel that the courts have failed me. If I had another tenancy case, my inclination would be to take the laws into my own hands, and let the chips fall where they may. I now know that I can tie up any case in court forever, given this precedence. Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said
A copy of the petition was made available to Realnews, which waded in to investigate the allegations made against the chief magistrate of Osisioma Court One.
Realnews called the magistrate’s phone number several times and decided to send a text of the allegations made against him.
On receiving the text, the magistrate called Realnews fuming and threatening to commit the journalist to contempt of court. But Realnews reminded the magistrate that it was the constitutional duty of the media to hold public officials accountable, urging him to respond to the question sent to his phone.
After trying to harass and intimidate the Realnews journalist with four phone calls during which he displayed temper tantrum, requesting for name of the reporter and the address of the office of Realnews. He was severally reminded that the information he was requesting for was in the text message sent to his phone.
After a few hours, chief magistrate Nwogu finally responded to Realnews text message stating: “How did you get my number? I do not owe you any duty of explanation and you do not have any right to interfere with a case in court to the extent of sending text messages to me, calling and abusing me. You should know that this matter is SUBJUDICE.
“If you are in need of any information from the court, you can apply for the C.T.C of the proceedings to the court Administrator of the court. They are public documents and you are entitled to be provided with same. The records are self-explanatory and speak for themselves. Remember that your conduct amounts to contempt of court. Because of your threat, I am now in apprehension of imminent danger.
“It would be highly appreciated if you could please assist the police in their investigation activities as I have acquainted the police with the development. The judgment was to be delivered on the 5-10-2021 but because of the Abia state judiciary legal year celebration which took place on that day no court sat in Abia State. The matter was then adjourned to 20-10-2021.
“Concerning the other allegations which you made and which are criminal in nature, it would be highly appreciated, if you could please come up with concrete evidence before the police for purposes of proving same. AND THE BETTER TO ENABLE THE POLICE CONDUCT THEIR INVESTIGATIONS AND DO THE NEEDFUL. I BELEIVE THIS A PLOY GEARED TOWARDS TARNISHING MY IMAGE AND DESTROYING MY HARD EARNED REPUTATION.”
Realnews states that the chief magistrate was at no time threatened. In fact, below is the text message it sent to the phone number (08065831555) of the magistrate.
“Good morning sir.
“Hope all is well with you and family. If so, thank God.
“My name is Maureen Chigbo, publisher of Realnews Magazine based in Lagos. Our website is www.realnewsmagazine.net. We are currently doing a story on a tenancy case in your court in Law suit Suit No- Mos/530/2017. Michael Ihemaguba is the plaintiff while Gaius Anyanwu is the defendant.
“Kindly respond to the allegations against you to enable us balance our story.
“1. It is alleged that you concluded hearing on the case since one and half years ago, but you are yet to give judgment on the case. Why?
“2. The law states that judgment in a case should be given three months after conclusion of hearing/arguments. In this instance, why have you delayed given judgment in the case?
“3. It is alleged that you were bribed by the defendant to delay the case until your retirement which is soon? Can you comment on this?
“4. Justice delayed is justice denied. Do you see this dictum playing out in this case?
“5. What can you do henceforth to ensure justice is done in this case?
“We would be grateful, if you can respond to this text message as quickly as possible to enable us meet the deadline of publishing our story on Thursday evening, October 14. Thank you in anticipation of your prompt response.”
This notwithstanding, Realnews reached out to Anyanwu, the tenant, on the phone. At first, he said he was on the road (in a bank) and would not be able to react that we should call back by 7pm.
Contacted again, Anyanwu admitted living in the apartment for the period of time alleged in the petition, but insisted that he would not say much since the case was in court.
Prodded further, Anyanwu described his landlord as a rogue, saying: “That man is a rogue. What does he want. He took me to court. The case is in court. Let the judgment run, if I am satisfied, I will discuss payment method, and I will pay. But if I am not, then I will appeal.”
According to him, “I have been spending my money to pay my lawyer. The money I would have used to offset the debt. I agree that I am owing, and I will pay him. My argument with him is the difference in the amount.
“I only heard of the increment after he took me to court. He said he increased the rent without sending a notice through his lawyer, who does that. I have never paid him a million Naira, where will I get that from. He knows that I am a government contractor who has not been paid by the government for a very long time. I have pleaded with him to give me more time but he refused.
“My son only paid him N600,000 on my behalf in 2016/17, and that was after the issue became embarrassing to the whole family.
“After that payment, he still kept urging me to add anything I had, and I had to sell part of my property to give him an additional N200,000. A week or two after that, he took me to court.
“The documents including the date are in court, you can get them from there. I even want the court to conclude this case because I have spent a lot, but my first lawyer died and I had to get another one. This case would have been concluded in January, but the police station in front of the court was attacked and most of the buildings there were destroyed with gunshot bullets so nothing could happen until after the building was fixed.”
Anyanwu insisted that after two years of the case being in the court, his lawyer had initiated an out-of-court settlement, but Mr. Michael started talking about increments. At that point, his lawyer said that I will pay N600,000 for each year that I have stayed, including the rent for the ground floor which was uninhibited. He even said I will pay for all his expenses on this case. That was when we knew that he was out to cause trouble. He has been threatening me.”
He also insisted that the allegation that he has built a house was false, adding that “If until now I have any block or any land that I have any building, let judgment come upon me. Let me not see 2022, even one room, let me be killed.”
Realnews is also in possession of another letter dated 22 February, 2021 to Mr Gaius Anyanwu, through his counsel, Ugwuzor C. Agomuo of No 31 Okigwe Road, Aba, Abia State, alleging threat to the life of the attorney of Ihemaguba.
The letter entitled: “Notice to Your client of a Pending Police Entry” and signed by G. Ifeanyi Elenwoke, G. Ifeanyi Elenwoke & Co, Barristers & Solicitors, Onuegbu Chambers, at 46 St. Michael’s Road, Aba, alleged that Anyanwu with some strange looking person trailed Friday Okon Warrie, attorney to Ihemaguba.
The letter said: “You will recall that suit No Mos/530/2017 came up on the 16th day of February, 2021, for judgment, but unfortunately, we were informed by the court that the judgment was not ready. After the court’s sitting for that day, we noticed that Mr. Gaius Anyanwu was trailing our client’s attorney by name Friday Okon Warrie for reasons best known to him. It was also observed that your client came to court on that very day in company of strange faces while making frantic effort to trail our client’s attorney. Qui.
Elenwoke informed Anyanwu through the letter that it has “caused an entry to be made at the Abayi Police Station for the sake of any eventuality. Please advise your client accordingly.”
Nonetheless, Realnews reached some Nigerian lawyers to ascertain what the law is on a case that has lingered in the court and how it should be handled. The lawyers were unanimous in their conclusion.
Monday O. Ubani, chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Section of Public Interest and Development Law, SPIDEL, captured most of the legal thoughts, when he said: “It is strange that the magistrate has refused, neglected and or rejected to deliver judgment in a tenancy matter that has been concluded a year and half ago. Unless there is an interlocutory appeal with an order to stay proceedings, it sounds strange that the court has not delivered judgment after conclusion of trial for such a long period.”
According to Ubani, who was the former chairman of the NBA, Ikeja Branch, “Under the Nigerian law, the courts have maximum period of 3 months to deliver judgment after conclusion of trial. It is a constitutional matter. However, any judgment delivered after the three months will not be invalidated on that ground except there is evidence of miscarriage of justice.
For the magistrate court not to deliver judgment after a year and half appears strange and bizarre.
“The counsel to the Landlord should petition the Chief Judge of the State to bring to his or her attention the strange happening at the magistrate Court. If this story is true of the magistrate that he or she has refused to deliver a judgment for such length of time after conclusion of trial, it is obvious that he or she has been compromised. There should be a petition to the Chief Judge and copied to the State Judicial Service Commission.
“The tenant can only be responsible over the accommodation he or she has rented. If she or he is occupying upstairs, it has to be paid for and if he or she is occupying downstairs, he has to pay for it, no matter the length of time.
Ubani advised that “a petition should be written immediately to avert the calamity of his retirement without finishing this case. Bringing the matter to the public space is also not a bad idea because the public should be made aware of the kind of thing going on in the judiciary, which over time has not helped the administration of justice. However, if the internal mechanism can address the problem, then the public should be spared of the agony of the name of the magistrate being made public unless the State judiciary fails, refuses and or neglects to address the injustice.
“Indeed justice delayed is justice denied. The length of time within which to get justice is at the root of administration of justice.
“The inordinate delay in administration of justice affects the confidence of the public on our judicial system. The courts remain the hope of the common man, however that confidence can be shaken when it takes such a long time to obtain justice in the land.
“This case that has lasted such a long period is one of those unfortunate cases that really give concern to stakeholders in the administration of justice. I am sure that the Chief Judge and the State Judicial Service Commission if notified on time, will take appropriate measures to restore justice in this case. It is my hope.”
Will Justice A.K. Ogwe, chief justice, Abia State Judiciary, Umuahia, Abia State, give succor to Ihemaguba’s search for justice and ease his frustration at the hands on chief magistrate Nwogu? Only time will tell.
First Published – Oct. 18, 2021 @ 7:41 GMT |