Tony John, Port Harcourt
There was commotion Wednesday at the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt, when protesting members of the Rivers State Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) disrupted court proceedings.
The action of the protesters, though stopped by the intervention of litigants, led to an adjournment of hearings till Thursday, January 31.
The Court of Appeal had adjourned Monday’s session till today to hear the motion of stay of execution on the judgement of a Federal High Court which stopped the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the State from fielding candidates for the 2019 elections.
The adjourned date had coincided with a two-day boycott of court proceedings declared by the NBA nationwide over the suspension of Justice Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
When the Court resumed to commence hearing, the state chapter of the NBA, led by its Chairman, Sylvester Adaka, arrived with protest placards.
The NBA protesters were stopped by the presiding judge, who said that protests in a court room were unethical, urging them to sit and express their grievances.
After a brief exit following an audience with the sitting panel of judges, the protesters returned to disrupt court proceedings, chasing their colleagues away from the court room.
However, litigants at the hearing respondend to the disorder by pouncing on the protesters, chasing them out of the courtroom.
The Court of Appeal panel described the incident as an act of incivility, saying that it was aimed at intimidating the court.
The Presiding Judge, Justice A. Gumel, said that it was unethical for the Bar to attempt to disrupt the sitting of the bench, adding that the court ought to be respected.
“You have seen people march into our proceeding. This is incivility. We will not be intimidated. We will do our work. We are here to do a solemn job and we will give justice,” the judge said.
“The bar is entitled to respect the bench and the bench should carry the bar along. If the ethical behaviours handed to us by our fathers are maintained, we will make headway.
“It is about all the courts and administration of justice and not just the Appeal Court in Rivers State.”
Another judge, Justice Isaiah Akeju, noted that the panel was not officially notified of the boycott order by the NBA, adding that notice ought to have been served on the bench.
“Advice your colleagues that it is not in their best interest to disrupt the sitting of the bench. We are not aware because they did not inform us. What stops them from doing a small notice to us on the issue?”
A third judge in the panel, Justice Mustafa, said the disruption displayed in court would remain in the mind of the court.
“This will remain in our memory. It is important for the bar to respect the bench. No lawyer is expected to misbehave. We are happy that the pandemonium did not extend to the bench,” he said.