A lawyer, Johnson O. Esezoobo, has called on the management of the News Agency Of Nigeria (NAN), desist from castigating Justice Cecilia Mojisola Olatoregun, of a Lagos Federal High Court, for given judgement against the agency.
Esezoobo also advised agency to simply obey the court judgment rather than castigating the judge and the nation’s judicial system.
The lawyer gave the advice in a rejoinder to a petition published by the NAN management in an online medium, Premium Times, on May 21, against the Federal High Court judge, over her judgment against the agency.
Justice Olatoregun had November 7, 2008, while delivering judgment in a suit filed by a retiree, Sunny Odunwo against the agency ordered NAN to pay the sum of N15.5 million to the retiree as his pension and gratuity.
But, following the failure of NAN to pay Odunwo the said amount till date or appeal the judgment, his lawyer, Esezoobo, filed a garnish application against the agency, wherein the the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Emefiele and the bank’s legal officer, Johnson Akinkumi were listed as contemnors.
Consequently, Justice Olatoregun, on May 17, while declined to cedes to the judgment creditor’s request to commit both Emefiele and Akinkumi to their failure to obey the order of garnishee absolute made by the court, due to non-personal service on the dou.
Rather, Justice Olatoregun had directed the plaintiff to ensure that the committal application are served personally on both Emefiele and Akinkumi. While the matter was adjourned till June 10, for further hearing.
Reacting to NAN’s position on Justice Olatoregun’s decision, in a rejoinder to the Premium Times publication and other social media, Esezoobo said: “our attention has been drawn to the publication of a petition said to have been dated May 21, 2019, written by the News Agency of Nigeria in the Premium Times May 28, 2019, against Honourable Justice C.M.A. Olatoregun, which has also been circulating in the social media regarding the enforcement of the Court judgment of November 7, 2008 in favour of our client, Sunny Odunwo.
“This petition is the cowardly, mean and unfitting work of Sheni Ibiwoye, SAN of Bayo Ojo & Co. What baffles us is the
deliberate falsehoods it is banding around to scandalise us as Counsel and the learned Judge who is widely acknowledged by the Bar and the Bench to be forthright, hardworking and dedicated to her calling, the office of a Judge.
“For example, that “…the plaintiff, after receiving his entitlement, went ahead to compute another terminal benefit his own way and came with the figure, “N15. 5 million” couldn’t be referable to any other person than J. Odion Esezoobo & Co, the Counsel, who prepared and filed the processes in Court.
1. QUESTIONS FROM THE PETITION
One, assuming that the allegation is correct, that after receiving his entitlement, went ahead to compute another terminal benefit his own way and came with the figure, “N15.5 million”, how does the Judge come to warrant the allegation of “unbecoming attitude” by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who is merely hiding under NAN to make this cheap and cowardly petition?
Two, a Judge works purely on processes before him, duly filed in Court and adopted by Counsel on behalf of the client(s). In this case, the motion Ex-parte with the supporting affidavit and accompanying exhibits upon which the Garnishee Order Nisi was made by the Judge, and subsequently made absolute, is on record.
Ought not the newspaper investigate the petition by confronting the Judge who is not in a position to respond to the publication or the other personalities mentioned in the petition?
Three, in the practice of journalism, should Premium Times, on receiving a petition against a person, particularly a Judge relating to a judicial proceeding, go to the press without investigating the facts either by seeking audience with the Judge or other persons mentioned in it or conducting a search on the case file to verify the facts?
The above quips are raised to highlight the malice in the whole petition and the publication in the newspapers and the social media.
Narrating the Genesis of the case
But as will be seen shortly in this rejoinder, NAN and her three Senior Advocates of Nigeria of the Law Firm of Bayo Ojo & Co, most particularly Seni Ibiwoye, SAN, are
victims of their sharp and ‘jankara’ practice in this matter since 2009. A simple case of enforcement of judgment which parties and their Counsel could easily have sat down to resolve peacefully got escalated by a firm of lawyers comprising three Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
And now, they “…know not at what they stumble (Proverbs 4:19), in their chosen wicked way, they want to pull down the Judge rather than face the fate they have brought upon themselves. Their case is well captured in the Holy Bible thus, “For they sleep not, unless they have done mischief: and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall, for they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence”.
3. THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER.
Sunny Odunwo is our client. He retired from NAN in 1991, not 1986 as falsely and maliciously claimed in the petition, on salary Grade Level 15 step 4 after having
worked variously with FRCN and LSBC at different times secondment from NAN. He went to Court following NAN’s refusal to merge his services for the purposes of
paying him pension and gratuity. And he got judgment on 7th November 2008 which ordered NAN to merge the
various services together, and compute the pension and gratuity.
By this merger, the totality of our client’s service years came to 20 years. The Honourable Justice Olatoregun noted this in the judgment but specifically referred to the 15 years qualifying period for pension and gratuity. Ordinarily, a party who is not satisfied with the judgment of a Court has a right of appeal to the Appeal Court.
But in this case, though it was not happy with the judgment, NAN did not appeal. Rather, it decided to enforce the judgment its own way by computing the pension and gratuity on undisclosed service years as well as undisclosed salary grade level. NAN then wrote us a letter to say that “NAN’s share of gratuity [was] N15, 167.95” while the “Arrears of pension up to December 31, 2008 [was] N394, 007. 45” all amounting to N409,175.40
Obviously, that computation was not in compliance with the Order of Court. It was in total disobedience of it. A party does not choose how it wants to obey order of Court.
4. PROTEST AGAINST PAYMENT OF N409,175
In protest against the payment, we wrote NAN to say when the Court ordered her to compute and pay, it was expected that it would do the computation through the Office of Head of Service of the Federation as the appropriate department. And when NAN would not heed our protest, we wrote to the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation to advise NAN and help in the computation. The Office of the Head of Service of the Federation responded and wrote to NAN for her comments unheeded.
The said Office of Head of Service of the Federation commenced the computation exercise awaiting the response of NAN. But very curiously, the then Managing director of NAN, late Remi Oyo, reportedly threatened the lady, one Alhaja, who was doing the computation, to drop it ‘if yuo like t your job’. Thus, NAN intimidated the department out of its job and frustrated the computation.
Yet, NAN did not stop there. Late Remi Oyo as MD of NAN called in Bayo Ojo, SAN who is former Attorney General of the Federation under ex-President Obasanjo.
Late Remi Oyo and Bayo Ojo, SAN were in Obasanjo’s Presidency. As Attorney General, Bayo Ojo, SAN signed the Rules of Professional Conduct for Lawyers 2007 into law. He was therefore, expected to advise NAN as required by Rule …………
But very shamefully, the firm of Senior Advocates of Nigeria wrote us, threatening to go on appeal to recover the N409,175.40 already paid our client. The letter was shamefully signed personally by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Duro Adeyele, all to intimidate us and our client to drop our protest.
5. ON ALLEGATION OF COMPUTATION OF N15.5M.
Now, contrary to the malicious publication, the computation of “N15.5million” is not “another terminal benefit (computed in) his own way…” as claimed in the publication but the actual computation for the period of 23 years from 1991 to 2014, and based on the terminal Salary Grade 15 step 4.
Truly, after ordering merger of our client’s services, the judgment of November 7, 2008 directed NAN to compute the pension and gratuity and pay. NAN never liked the judgment because it overturned its refusal to merge the services from 1991. It therefore, set out from beginning to frustrate the judgment as will be seen later.
Truly too, the Court did not order our client, Sunny Odunwo, to compute the benefits. No Court of law will make such an order; at best, a Court can direct both parties to sit together and reconcile as indeed the Court of Appeal persistently admonished in this case for over six (6) years from 2012 up to August 2018.But the Judgment did not equally say the plaintiff could not liaise with NAN to engage the appropriate department for
the computation exercise or assist the appropriate department such as by furnishing his details of service
particularly as NAN was into mischief.
Even then, the facts before the Court do not show that our client did the computation. Had the Premium Times taken time to investigate the facts, it would have found from the processes before the Court that the computation was actually done by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation. The affidavit evidence upon which the learned Judge made the Order Nisi as is entitled to do and subsequently Order Absolute is very clear that the computation was done by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation.
As pointed out above, NAN did the computation its own way instead of doing so through the appropriate department, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, by forwarding our client’s record of service to the said office. Does even a messenger earn N409,175.40 as arrears of pension and gratuity or a monthly pension of N2000. 00 much more a man who retired on Grade level 15 step 4? Yet, Seni Ibiwoye SAN is proud to announce that our client was paid by NAN in compliance with the judgment of Court.
Significantly, the computation by NAN did not state the period of computation, neither did it state the terminal salary grade on which the computation was based. Yet the payment was fraudulently made by Bank transfer to our client’s account. How? See below.
NAN had requested for our client’s Bank account’s details for transfer of his benefits. For a man who had been denied pension and gratuity for a period of Eighteen (18) years from 1991 to 2009, and had indeed been suffering, it was a great relief to be told to send his account details for payment of his benefits. And unsuspecting that NAN was up to some mischief, he sent the details. And when he got the short payment, and without details of the computation, he took the payment without prejudice to his right to complain.
Thus, for a Senior Advocate of Nigeria to say as NAN has amplified in the petition, that a man who retired in 1991 on level 15 step 4 accepted the controversial payment, merely because he did not return it, and against the facts of the case is to take argument to a pedestrian level, quite unbecoming of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Furthermore, to say that the man “…worked for NAN for six years and Mr. (Sic) Olatoregun-Isola’s judgment had directed the agency to compute and pay the plaintiff’s terminal benefits, which it did”, a clue to how NAN arrived at the computation of N409, 175.40, six (6) period, against the judgment of Court, is not only a misrepresentation of the facts but also proof of lack of respect by both NAN and her three Senior Advocates of Nigeria for the judgment of Court.
6. THE COURT OF APPEAL PROCEEDINGS
Most unexpectedly, these three Senior Advocates of Nigeria escalated the crisis by actually going to the Court of Appeal instead of advising their client. We felt ashamed, and scandalised, that as lawyers, we could not settle a simple matter of computation of terminal benefits. They lost shamefully on 26/1/11.
But Senior Advocates of Nigeria filed another motion immediately. And for almost ten (10) years up to October 2018, we were in the Court of Appeal until they lost again on October 29, 2018. This is how NAN and her Senior Advocates of Nigeria used the Court process to oppress by preventing him from taking pension for about 27 years from 1991 to 2018. This obviously is not what Courts are meant for. This obviously is not the role of lawyers in society.
By 2014, we advised our client to go to the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation as the appropriate department and submit the relevant details of his service as captured in the judgment of November 7 2008 for the computation of his benefits. And the department of the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation did the computation based on the record of service from 1991 to 2014 and advised the client appropriately.
We then wrote and communicated the result of the computation to NAN by letter of September 26, 2014 for verification and payment, yet to no avail.
7. ADMONITION OF THE COURT OF APPEAL.
Between 2012 and 2016, the Court of Appeal advised and persistently counselled that we should meet and settle amicably. But these Senior Advocates of Nigeria refused to cooperate. The Court said we should meet them. We met them at various times at both their Lagos and Abuja offices. One Mrs. Brown from NAN represented NAN at one of the meetings. Very curiously, Sheni Ibiwoye, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, falsely claimed they did not have some vital documents we had earlier forwarded to them on our client’s terminal grade as captured in the judgment.
Accordingly, they were working with six (6) years and level 12. So, between 2015 and 2016, we wrote several other letters, specifically “FOR ATTENTION OF SENI IBIWOYE, SAN”, re-forwarding all the relevant documents, and reminding them to go to the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation and verify the computation we submitted in September 2014.
8. THE PTAD INTERVENTION
Our client reliably gathered that NAN subsequently verified the computation at the Office of Head of Service of the Federation after our letter of October 31, 2016. But rather than call us for a consequential discussion on payment of our client, NAN secretly went to the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) on April 13, 2017 and procured a letter from the organisation reversing the Court judgment of November 7, 2008.
Significantly, PTAD’s letter of 27/7/17 specifically says that our client ‘is not entitled to pension and gratuity See NAN’s secret letter of 13/4/17. This development is the most unconscionable step both NAN and her Senior Advocates of Nigeria took in this case.
9. WHETHER PTAD APPROPRIATE BODY TO COMPUTE
Now, according to the petition, PTAD ought to be the appropriate body to handle the computation of the benefits.
The first quip here is how does that concern the Judge? Was she involved in the computation to make that point relevant for this petition against her?
Secondly, at what point did NAN realise that PTAD was the appropriate body to compute the benefits, assuming the assertion is true?
Thirdly, when it realised that PTAD is the appropriate body, why would NAN not notify us even when we wrote her several letters from 2009 to October 2016 particularly our letters of September 26, 2014, 2nd October 2, 2015 and October 31, 2016?
Furthermore, why did NAN prefer to go secretly to PTAD with false information, as contained in its letter of April 13, 2017 on the matter, and without our knowledge? Why would NAN withhold the information in the Court judgment November 7, 2008 to the effect that upon merger of our client’s services, he made the qualifying years?
Why would NAN falsely inform PTAD that our client served forr only six (6) years upon which PTAD that is no more than an administrative body reversed the Court judgment of November 7, 2008 by saying our client is not entitled to pension and gratuity?
Now, the truth again is that PTAD was established in 2013, while we had been on the matter since 2008. Secondly, if PTAD had taken over the function of payment of pension from the Office of Head of Service of the Federation, why did NAN and her three Senior Advocates of Nigeria of the Bayo Ojo & Co not come out to say so from 2014, when we posted the computation through the various reminder letters up to October 31, 2016? Finally on this point, PTAD was not set up as a secret confirming agency for employers on the status and qualification of ex-staff for retirement benefits but as agency to process and pay pension ONLY, not gratuity.
And the only job of the employer(s) like NAN is to forward record of service of retired staff to the agency for processing and payment of pension. And in this case, the judgment of the Court contains all that is needed as record of service.
But because of the mischief they were pursuing, NAN and her three Senior Advocates of Nigeria of the Bayo Ojo & Co turned PTAD to a confirming authority of who is and who is not entitled to pension and gratuity thereby making it assume a new role outside its prescribed functions.
10. ON THE ALLEGATION OF DENIAL OF A FAIR HEARING BY THE LEARNED TRIAL JUDGE.
Now, having obtained their secret ‘judgment’ from PTAD on July 27, 2017 as above related, these conscienceless mercenaries who call themselves Senior Advocates of Nigeria, turned up in Court on March 7, 2019 to present the secret ‘judgment’ as a ‘joker’ to stop the Court from enforcing its judgment.
They failed to look at the Rules to know the extent of their interest on which they could be heard, they having no role as a judgment debtor in the garnishee proceeding. They failed to recognise that a judgment enforcement proceeding
does not involve question of a determination of civil rights and obligations of the parties, the proceedings being essentially between the judgment creditor and the garnishee.
Yet, contrary to their false claim, the Court was openly disposed to hearing them on Mararch 7, 2019. But again, they had shot themselves in the foot in their usual sharp and ‘jankara’ way of practice; they filed their motion of 19/2/2019 and did not serve it until the eve of hearing (6/3/19) to make it difficult, if not impossible for us to respond This ‘jankara’ practice forced the Judge to adjourn the motion to 16/5/2019 to enable us to file our response for all parties to be heard. The adjournment of the motion to 16/5/2019 was with the consent of parties.
11. ANY RESTRAINT ON THE JUDGE ON THE GARNISHEE PROCEEDINGS DUE ADJOURNMENT OF JUDGMENT DEBTOR’S MOTION?
Now, there is no rule that says that the Judge must hear the judgment debtor’s motion together with the garnishee proceeding because that proceeding is essentially between the judgment creditor and the garnishee. Particularly in this case where the Garnishee filed an affidavit of compliance or non objection, the learned Judge was absolutely within her right to go ahead with the hearing of the garnishee proceedings.
And the learned trial Judge rightly observed in the ruling of that day, March 7, 2019 that there was nothing before her, as between the judgment creditor and the garnishee, to stop a further consideration of the proceeding as under the Rules of Court.
Where then is the denial of a fair hearing when by their ‘jankara’ practice, they forced the adjournment of hearing of their motion to enable the other party who must be heard too on it to file its counter affidavit?
And soon after the proceedings of March 7, 2019, NAN and her three Senior Advocates of Nigeria, filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal with a motion for stay of execution of the Garnishee Order Absolute. Both the appeal and the motion for stay are pending before the Court of Appeal.
12. PROCEEDINGS OF 16/5/2019
Now, on the 16th of May 2019, NAN’s lawyers came to Court to announce that they had filed an appeal against the Order Absolute before the Court of Appeal. They announced that the appeal had been entered and as such they were withdrawing their motion. Accordingly, the Court struck out the motions. And we asked for a cost of N500,000.00. The Court asked for their reaction on the issue of cost and they reacted. And after hearing them, the Court awarded N100, 000. 00 accordingly.
Therefore, it does not lie in the mouth of these so-called Senior Advocates of Nigeria to say they were not heard by the Judge. The record of proceedings is there for all to see. It is a shame that they could not even say it confidently but through a cowardly induced petition by their client, NAN that they have since 2008 aided in its mischief, ultimately mislead her until the stark reality now stirring them in the face.
The Holy Bible says in Micah 2:1-2, “Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! When the morning is light, they practice it because it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields, and take them by violence: and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage”.
When those given to evil come face to face with the reality of the works of their hands, they should be courageous enough to face it and not seek to pull down innocent persons by frivolous petitions cowardly made through the clients.
NAN retained these Senior Advocates of Nigeria to engage the Court process to keep a fellow human being out of his terminal benefits or the fruits of his judgment. Prior to this, NAN had denied him the benefits for seventeen
(17) years from 1991 to 2008.
And these conscienceless human beings, who lack self-respect, forgot the ethics of their profession and chose to give themselves as mercenaries to NAN.
They executed the brief for NAN perfectly well, feeding from it while the man who retired in 1991 at the age of 43 years after 20 years of service, and is now 71years old, getting close to his final destination on earth, has been languishing in abject
WHETHER National Industrial Court of Nigeria
The petition also posits that the matter should have been transferred to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria
(NICN), where issues of pensions and gratuities are now handled. This is strange and unbelievable; that Senior Advocates of Nigeria can say that the Court cannot enforce its judgment but must send it to NICN. The Court has power to enforce its Judgment. We hope they will be bold to say so at the Court of Appeal where we are now.
The truth of it all is that the Senior Advocates of Nigeria are coming to terms with the reality of their poor advice and incompetence. They have seen that in aiding NAN in oppressing its ex-staff through their wrong advice, they shot themselves in the foot and there is nowhere to hide their faces. They have come face to face with the reality of their unprincipled way of practice by which they have deprived a citizen of his pension and gratuity for 28 years now since 1991.
But they cannot correct the error and redeem their image through frivolous petitions wired through clients. Bible says in Ps. 11:3, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
14. OPINION AND ADVICE
The stark reality before NAN and her Senior Advocates of Nigeria as ‘oppressor’ and our client as the ‘oppressed’ is that while the ‘judgment’ of PTAD of 27th April 2017 will remain an empty paper on which it was written, the Court judgment of 7th November 2008 will be enforced by its beneficiary irrespective of the campaign of calumny against the Judge who has done nothing here to warrant the spurious allegation of unbecoming attitude by these mercenaries who call themselves Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
NAN is a victim of its poor judgment in believing it could oppress its ex-staff for ever by denying him his pension and gratuity
As lawyers, we are not proud to say we could not settle a simple matter of computation of pension and gratuity such as is involved in this simple case of enforcement of judgment. We indeed, feel ashamed that we could not resolve this matter but had to go by the coercive process of law.
The Senior Advocates of Nigeria who are supposed to lead the Bar failed to live up to their responsibility. Now, faced with the reality of their incompetence and ‘jankara’ practice, they feel that resorting to some spurious and unwarranted campaign of calumny against the presiding Justice C. M. A. Olatoregun, who is acknowledged to be forthright, hardworking and dedicated to her job is the way out.
No! Let them pursue their appeal and other processes before the Court of Appeal.
Therefore, I am of the opinion, and I do hope the idea will be considered, that the National Judicial Council, NJC, should make a referral of the conduct of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria to the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar Association for appropriate action.