…Commissioner vows to apprehend fleeing contemptnor
By Ameh Ejekwonyilo
The Police in Enugu State have denied media reports indicating that an Enuga-based legal practitioner, Mr. F. C. Okeke, was arrested and detained in lieu of his client on the orders of a Magistrate Court at Agbogugu in Agwu Local Government Area of the State.
The Divisional Police Officer at Agbogugu Police Division, Mr. John Igele said there was no such arrest or detention of any lawyer by his men, adding that the trending publication on the said arrest was a fabrication of mischief makers.
In a telephone conversation with our correspondent on Saturday, Mr. Igele said, “I am not aware of any arrest warrant against a lawyer in my police division. And we (the police) did not arrest or detain any lawyer in lieu of his client in my division. That is not true.
“However, I will investigate the case of an alleged contemptnor who has been evading arrest even when an arrest warrant was issued by the Magistrate Court against him,” the DPO said.
On his part, the Enugu State Police Commissioner, Mr. Mohammed Aliyu in his reaction said, “The accused person can only ask the court to quash the arrest warrant, but as long as there is an order the arrest must be enforced by the police. Even if the accused has ten Senior Advocates of Nigeria, and the arrest warrant is not vacated, we will go after the fleeing contemptnor to apprehend him.”
Facts emerged that Mr. F. C. Okeke had connived with some police officers at the Agbogugu Police Division to flout a lawful order of a Magistrate Court at Agbogugu, Agwu Local Government Area of the State.
The presiding Chief Magistrate, Mrs. Ezeobi Ngozi Anidi, had on Tuesday, March 16, 2012, ordered the remand of one John Chidozie Igwe for disobeying the court’s earlier order in an assault suit.
The police were prosecuting Mr. Igwe for assaulting his step-sister over a property matter.
A land dispute had ensured between Mr. Igwe and his sister following the death of their parents.
According to the claimant in the property dispute, the defendant, Mr. Igwe had destroyed a house she had built on the disputed land, the action which rendered her homeless.
However, the Magistrate Court in a ruling in 2020, held that a woman can inherit her parents’ property, a decision which was predicated on a judgement of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in Ukeje Vs Ukeje, where Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, held that a female child of a deceased parent cannot be disinherited.
In the ruling, Magistrate Ezeobi Anidi ordered the accused to allow the claimant stay on the disputed property pending the determination of the substantive suit.
Dissatisfied with the lower court’s ruling, Mr. Igwe approached the Enugu State High Court to set aside the decision.
After hearing the appeal, the Enugu State High Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the ruling of the Magistrate court.
Yet, the accused declined and neglected to obey the lower court’s decision.
On March 16, 2021, the claimant drew the Magistrate’s attention to the flagrant disobedience of Mr. Igwe to the court’s order, prompting Mrs. Anidi to issue a warrant of arrest for the accused to be produced in court to answer questions on why he was away from court and refused to obey its order.
“But the accused lawyer, Mr. F. C. Okeke rather than collaborate with the police prosecutor, Mr. Innocent Egbuaba, as a minister in the temple of justice to bring his client to court, allegedly conspired with police officers at Mbenabo Police Division in Agwu LGA of Enugu State, to free the accused,” court official who pleaded anonymity told our reporter.
“In a fabricated court order being circulated in a section of the media, the defendant’s lawyer, Mr. F.C. Okeke, accused the Magistrate of remanding him in police custody in lieu of his client, which is not true,” the source said.
A former Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani, while reacting to indiscipline among his colleagues at the Bar, said the court and judicial officers must be protected from mischief makers, who go about soiling the names of judges.
“You know judges are not allowed to speak for themselves in the media. So, you would see all kinds of falsehoods aimed at tarnishing their reputation, even by lawyers. Therefore, such unscrupulous colleagues in the Bar must be identified by the NBA, and appropriate sanctions meted out to them. They must be stopped from desecrating the temple of justice,” Mr. Ubani noted.