By Taiye Agbaje
Abuja – Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, recused himself from a suit brought by Omoyele Sowore, Convener, #RevokutionNow, currently before him.
Mohammed made this known to parties at the mention of the motion ex-parte with suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/1409/19 filed by Sowore, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, to challenge his continued detention by the Department of State Service (DSS).
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that while Sowore is the applicant, the Director General of DSS and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) are 1st and 2nd defendants in this matter.
The judge told counsel representing parties in the case that he decided to withdraw from the matter because Sahara Reporters, an online media, had in 2016 and 2019 accused him of collecting bribe in a case between the Federal Government and Gabriel Suswam, former Benue Governor and current senator representing the state at the National Assembly.
Mohammed, who sought the opinions of the lawyers, said in the interest of justice, it would be better for him to recuse himself.
The judge then stood down the case for few minutes.
“I have an issue with this matter. I want you, counsel, to look at it before we come back. I want to have your opinions.
“When the registrar of this court called me and informed me that I will be handling this matter, I asked if the chief judge was around and I was told he traveled for Christmas.
“Inside me, my conscience is telling me I should not take this matter subject to what people will say and what you will think.
“This applicant is a publisher of Sahara Reporter. Sometimes in 2016, he accused me of taking money for a matter to compromise the course of justice and I returned the case file but it was returned back to me that it would not be reassigned.
“Again this year, around June, the same applicant accused me of taking money again on the same case and I had to hands off again.
“Then the case was reassigned to Justice Abang.
“In all honesty, will it be fair for me to sit on this matter concerning the publisher?” he asked.
Mohammed, who said parties’ confidence was paramount in a matter, said: “justice is a fair trial.”
“What if in a way my order seems not to be favourable, I will be seen as being paid for, or when the proceeding is even going on, the applicant himself will be apprehensive what judgment will this judge gives,” he added.
Earlier on Monday, Sowore’s lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, who said he was ready for the matter, had informed the court that they filed an application of enforcement of the applicant’s fundamental human right dated Nov 15.
Godwin Agbadua, counsel to the DSS, told the court that he got to know about the proceeding through the media.
“I leant the 1st responding, DSS DG, was summoned to be in court today.
“We are today in court because of the high respect we have for the court.
“We are unaware that the applicant has filed several processes against the 1st respondent but what we are not aware of is the process before this court that brought us here today.
“In this regard, we will be relying solely on the court guidance for this application because we have not been served with the summon directing 1st respondent to appear today,” he said.
On his part, the AGF lawyer, Abdullahi Abubakar, told the court that the AGF had filed his processes earlier dated Dec. 5.
“We also filed a motion, we filed further and better affidavit in response to the counter affidavit and notice of hearing of the motion on Dec. 19,” he said.
Abubakar hinted that though a preliminary objection had been filed, he would need time to regularise this.
Falana, however, objected to Abubakar’s submission of asking for more time.
He said he was surprised that Agbadua said he read about the case proceeding through the media.
“My learned friend met us this morning and he did not ask why we were here,” he said.
Falana told the court that Agbadua wouldn’t have moved for adjournment of the matter because he never said he was not ready for the case.
Agbadua, however, said he had not been served with processes.
“Someone whose matter is to be determined by court ought to be informed that this matter is to be determined.
“Where there is no service of processes, including hearing notice, whatever that is done as to the matter in connection with such party will be a nullity,” he had argued.
On his part, Falana insisted that Agbadua had been served with all the processes.
“He has been served. My learned friend has all the processes,” he said.
Justice Mohammed, who decided to afford all the parties to take a look at the processes in court file, also read out the letters sent to the DSS and office of the AGF by Deputy Registrar, Litigation, informing them of the proceeding, and delivered by the bailiff on Dec. 19 to both offices.
Judge, who was unhappy with Agbadua’s comment, later stood down the case for the parties to regularise all the processes and to seek for their opinions on his decision to withdraw from the case.
When the court reconvened, Falana said though he had no course to doubt the judge, it was better in the interest of justice for Justice Mohammed to recuse himself from the matter.
“I am flabbergasted by this. Although I am not aware of this publication, My Lord, as you raised this matter, my mind went to a case of Late Chief M.K.O. Abiola Vs FGN in 1995 where a Supreme Court disqualified eight justices from hearing any of the appeal arising from Abiola’s case on ground that the Concord Newspaper of which Abiola was the publisher had written a story concerning the eight justices which had led to the institution of libel suit against the newspaper.
“It was a unanimous decision of the apex court that the justice of the case requires that the justices should recuse themselves..
“As My Lord has rightly noted, justice must not only be done but must have been seen to have been done.
“In view of this, we are of the view that this case is sent back to the chief judge for reassignment.
“Also my Lord, this is a case in which the integrity of this honourable court has been questioned by armed invasion of the court which occurred on Dec 6, 2019,” he said.
On his part, the DSS lawyer, Agbadua, said in order for the public not to misconstrued the position of the security outfit, it would be better not to make a comment on the judge’s decision.
“The learned SAN has said it all. Most importantly the agency I represent has been in the media over this matter.
“For that singular reason, I will not state a position on whether or not My Lord can hear it because it could be misconstrued to be in form of the agency trying to delay the hearing,” he said.
However, the AGF lawyer, Abubakar, did not oppose the judge’s decision.
Justice Mohammed, who then recused himself from the suit, ordered that the case file be transferred to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, for reassignment.
NAN reports that Justice Inyang Ekwo had, on Dec. 17, fixed today, Dec. 23 to hear from the DSS and AGF why Sowore should not be released from custody.
Sowore, through his lawyer, Falana, had filed a motion ex-parte before Justice Ekwo to demand for his unconditional release from the DSS detention in pursuance of the release order made by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu on Nov. 6.
He said his continued detention regardless of the release order made by the court on Nov. 6 was “unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void.”
NAN reports that the operatives of the DSS had rearrested Sowore shortly after a court proceeding at the Federal High Court in Abuja on Dec. 6, barely 24 hours of releasing him and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, from custody.
Justice Ojukwu had fixed Feb. 11, 2020, as next adjourned date.
However, Abubakar Malami, SAN, the AGF and Minister of Justice, had, on Dec. 13, announced his take over of the prosecution of Sowore in the charge of treasonable felony levied against him.