Legal practitioners and litigants in Delta State have expressed concerns over the redeployment of a Kwale High Court of Justice judge, barely two months after she convicted a top official of the state government on the Freedom of Information Act.
The High Court judge, Hon Justice O. Jalogho-William (Mrs.) was redeployed after she delivered a landmark judgment convicting the Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Development, Mr. Dan Okenyi, for failing to release pertinent land documents to the Umu-Okpala Omai family of Umusam, Kwale.
A new judge, who will probably hear Okenyi’s application seeking to set aside his conviction, has been appointed by the state’s Ministry of Justice.
Sources who spoke with The Nation expressed concern that that move could be a plot to upturn the judgment, particularly as the convicted government official is seeking to set aside the judgment.
The Umu-Okpala Omai family, it was gathered, needed the documents to enhance their position in a tussle with an oil company operating in their locality.
Following their failure to secure the documents from the ministry, after several attempts and written communications, the family approached the court.
The judgement delivered by Justice Jalogho-Williams read in part: “Having failed, refused and denied the applicants access to the records requested as prescribed by the FOI Act 2011, respondents are hereby found liable and are convicted accordingly.”
She said, Okenyi and others “are hereby convicted for the willful denial of requested records/documents/information” in the ministry of Lands, Survey and Urban Development.
However, Okenyi, who is fourth defendant in the case, claimed in an application seeking to set aside the judgment, that he was “never served either as 2nd or 4th defendant with any processing relating to this suit”
He said the court convicted him without hearing him or the other defendants, adding that he was informed of the suit days after his conviction.
Nevertheless, the family in a counter-affidavit insisted the state government was duly served, adding that the commission refused to respond because of his “disdain and disrespect for the courts even after briefing a lawyer who made a cameo appearance.”
Paragraph 10 of the document, signed by Sunday Ndubishi, 3rd applicant, copy of which was obtained by our report, further claimed that the commissioner had on December 7, 2016 boasted of his power and immunity from the judgment.
It states, “On 7/12/2016, I was at the High Court Kwale premises to pursue my application for a certified true copy of the record of proceedings of 1/62016 when the (commissioner) drove into the court premises in a retinue of cars with armed policemen and several other aides.”