Anambra Land Dispute: Bartholomew Okafor-Onyilo, Wins in court as Justice Ebong fines NBA
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, Bwari Division has ruled in favour of legal practitioner, Bartholomew Okafor-Onyilo, in a suit against the Nigerian Bar Association which recommended him for disciplinary action based on a legal opinion he rendered as Special Assistant to the Deputy Governor of Anambra State (Legal Matters), ANAMBRA PEOPLE reports.
Bartholomew Okafor-Onyilo, had in an affidavit he deposed to, in March 2022, said he wrote a legal opinion to the then Deputy Governor of Anambra State, who was also the Chairman of the State’s Boundary Committee on a land dispute between Ukpo and Abba communities in Anambra State.
According to him, the legal opinion was leaked to one of the parties in the land dispute (the applicant for boundary demarcation).
However, the lawyer said he did not receive any invitation from the association to enable him attend any hearing against him, only for him to read in newspapers that he had been invited to face the NBA’s Disciplinary Panel.
He, therefore, asked the court to declare that the findings of the defendants and recommendation as ultra vires, illegal, null and void and of no effect.
He also sought a declaration that he was entitled to own an opinion on a decision of the Supreme Court and such opinion is protected under Section 39 (1) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
While asking the court to set aside the findings and recommendation of the NBA, he also asked the court to award him damages in the sum of N10m against the defendants.
Ruling in the case on January 17, 2023, Justice Ebong, ruled in favor of the claimant on the ground that, in favour of the claimant on the ground that the 2nd Defendant being a lawyer and Secretary of the NBA’s Disciplinary Committee Panel clearly Flouted Rules 17(5)$20 of the Rules Of Professional Conduct by appearing for himself and NBA.
Secondly, that NBA allowed the breach of the Claimant’s Fundamental Right to fair hearing, entrenched in Section 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution which covers the twin pillars of Natural Justice expressed in the Latin Maxims: audi alteram patem(hear both sides),and nemo judex in causa sua(you can not be a judge in your own case); which renders the decision reached a nullity.
Court equally held that a RASH procedure was adopted by the NBA’s Panel. That the erratic and capricious handling of the petition by the Defendants resulted in no hearing at all, which made the Panel not to have looked into the allegations of media trial and campaign of calumny launched against the Claimant by the 2nd Defendant to tarnish his image.
The court established a biased mind or the likelihood of same against the Claimant, and held finally that the said violations have rendered the said report invalid, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
“It is in the course of such determination by the relevant organs that the claims of privilege and freedom of expression can be considered and ruled upon. The Court cannot take over the role of either the Panel or the Disciplinary Committee by pronouncing on the merit of the claimant’s potential defence to the allegation levelled against him. The supervisory powers conferred on this Court by the Constitution over Inferior tribunals, only enables It ensure that such tribunals follow due process and act within their competence; it does not empower the court to usurp the functions of such bodies by addressing issues or answering questions which by law are reserved for them to deal with. Issue 2 is therefore discountenanced.”
Justice Ebong also asked the defendants to pay the sum —of N200,000,00 (Two hundred thousand Naira) only, as general damages to the claimant; and a further sum of N50,000.00 (Fifty thousand Naira) only, as cost of the action.”
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