Godwin Tsa, Abuja
A Federal High Court has ordered an Abuja based practitioner, Prince Orji Nwafor-Orizu to produce a medical report from a recognised government psychiatric hospital confirming that he is mentally stable to appear before the court.
Justice Okon Abang who issued the order on Friday, stressed that Nwafor-Orizu would not be accorded audience in the matter again until he produced such a report.
In addition, the court held that Orizu must equally enter an undertaken to be of good conduct throughout the hearing and conclusion if the matter, not just before the Federal High Court in Abuja, but before any other superior court of record.
The order was a fallout of the conduct of Orizu who is representing Senator Osita Izunaso in the suit filed by Governor Rochas Okorocha against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over his certificate of return as winner of the Imo West senatorial seat.
It all began when Orizu who was not in court when the case was called, gallop in when counsel to the plaintiff, Kehinde Ogunwumiju, (SAN) was already on his feet to address the court.
Meanwhile, in Orizu’s absence, another lawyer, S.N. Anichebe, had announced his appearance on behalf of Osita Izunaso.
But just as the plaintiff’s counsel was about to make his submissions, Orizu interrupted and insisted the court could not proceed with the matter claiming that he was in possession of an order of the Court of Appeal staying proceedings.
While brandishing the alleged order of the Court of Appeal, Orizu shouted, “this court cannot sit on this matter. This matter cannot go on.”
His action elicited the following exchanges between him and Justice Abang:
Justice Abang: “Sit down senior counsel and stop interrupting the court. Besides, you are not a counsel on record in this proceeding.
Nwafor- Orizu: “No I can’t sit down; I have a document from the Court of Appeal and we have served everybody including the court.”
Abang: “Don’t raise your voice in court. What you are doing is unethical. You are frustrating the court. This is not a village square. You are not a counsel on record. I have been exercising patient to see if you can calm down.”
Orizu: “The court has no right to sit when I have an order of the Court of Appeal. This is judicial impedance.”
Abang: “I will rise for five minutes and by the time I returned, if the bar did not control itself, I will use my judicial powers.”
When the court resumed the counsel to the 2nd respondent, Nnawuchi, who was the most senior, apologised on behalf of the bench.
“As a most senior lawyer, I must apologised to the judge on what had transpired in court. It is not right to have this conduct. I want to assure the court that it will enjoy the cooperation of the bar as the matter has been resolved. Take whatever had happened with a pinch of salt.”
Although, Justice Abang said he accepted the apology of Nnawuchi as it was done in good practice, he, however, ruled that Orizu must be subjected to medical examination to ascertain the state of his mental fitness.
“As at 3pm when this matter was called, I asked the plaintiff counsel to conclude his argument. The plaintiff counsel was about to commence the concluding part of his argument when I noticed that Mr. Orji Nwafor-Orizu who had appeared for the 3rd defendant at the last adjourned date, had entered the courtroom.
“Without announcing his appearance, he started disturbing the proceedings. He made so much noise and raised his voice and shouted at the top of his voice that the case could not go on because he had an order from the Court of Appeal stopping the proceedings.
“He disturbed the proceeding of the court and I kept quiet and waited to see if he would behave like a normal person.
“When he failed to conduct himself and behave like a normal person, I stood the matter down for five minutes and told him that if I came back and his still behaved unruly in the face of the court, I would take action that would make him to know that I did not put myself here.
“I am not sure if Mr. Nwafor-Orizu is mentally stable. I will watch him in the course of the proceeding to see if he would continue with the conduct.
“I have directed armed security personnel to also watch him closely. If he behaves the same way, then I will have no option than to take the appropriate step to ascertain his mental state.
“This is because I must ensure that everyone is safe in this court. To that effect, he will be taken to the medical centre of the Federal High Court to establish his mental capacity and will be kept in protective custody at the medical centre until a medical report is issued.
“A normal person cannot behave this way. I told the security personnel to watch over him closely. If he misbehaves again, he should be gently taken into custody and if he resists, he will be arrested.
“I am not sure of his mental stability,” Justice Abang held.
Regardless, Kehinde in his submission urged the court to grant the reliefs sought by his client.
He argued that the issue ‘duress’ was the only defence raised by respondents before the court – that INEC did not say anything about duress or any other thing. That the 2nd to 8th respondents did not have any relationship with INEC or the returning officer.
He submitted that the word ‘duress’ is a state of mind of a person and only a person upon whom duress is exerted can feel it.
He submitted that the only documentary evidence before the court was the certified true copy of the police report on the collation of election of result.
“The court will find that there is no issue of violence or threat or confusion. That the respondents attached a report by the returning officer addressed to INEC. The report is not certified and so it is worthless.
“The law is that since it is a piece of previous evidence made in writing by the returning officer without calling on the returning officer to give evidence as a witness by an affidavit, the court cannot attach any weight to it.”
In her response, counsel to INEC, Mrs. Wendy Kuku, urged the court to dismiss the suit for being incompetent.
She attacked the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit on the grounds that being a post-election issue, it is only the National Assembly election petition tribunal that has the jurisdiction to adjudicate on the matter.
She argued that the non issuance of the certificate of return which is bordered on the executive and administrative act on INEC been challenged in this suit, is election related.
It was the submission of INEC that the cause of action having arisen out of an election that have been conducted, the suit is not a subject matter within the jurisdiction of the court.
She accordingly urged court to dismiss and or strike out suit for lacking in merit and want of jurisdiction.
In his submissions, Nnawuchi, counsel to the 2nd defendant, (Hon. Jones Onyeriri) challenged the mode of the commencement of the suit by an originating summons, when the facts were in dispute.
He argued that the proper mode of bringing the action ought to have been by a writ of summons where oral evidence can be called to resolve the dispute.
Accordingly, he urged the court to dismiss the suit as incompetent having been wrongly commenced by originating summons or in the alternative, order pleadings where oral evidence could be called.