By Robert Egbe
The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Enquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS related abuses and other matters Tuesday delivered its first judgment: it dismissed a petitioner’s N300million compensation claim.
Panel chair Judge emeritus Doris Okuwobi came down hard on the petition, filed by Mr Bonu Pascal against the Federal Special Anti-robbery Squad (FSARS), on the ground that it was a ‘judicial trap’ intended to deceive the tribunal.
The panel had been sitting since November 3, and had yet to conclude any of its 210 petitions.
Pascal’s petition, the fourth on the day’s list was filed on Monday.
It sought the Tribunal’s assistance to recover the N300m judgment sum awarded Paschal as compensation for the 2018 killing of one Jimoh Kehinde.
The sum was awarded against the police in 2018 by Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court in Lagos, but was subsequently reviewed downwards on appeal.
Before the petition could be heard, Police counsel Joseph Ebosereme raised a preliminary objection.
He informed the panel that the matter was already the subject of a civil suit that had been litigated up to the Supreme Court, before which it was pending.
“It is an abuse of court process presenting a matter already pending before a competent court. It amounts to double jeopardy in our constitution,” the police lawyer said.
According to him, the petitioner was aware that the N300m judgment debt had been slashed by the Court of Appeal in Lagos.
“The police filed an appeal, judgment was delivered at the Court of Appeal reducing the amount from N300m to N30million,” Ebosereme said.
He informed the panel that the Police had even approached the Supreme Court to further challenge that decision.
The counsel explained that Paschal attempted to enforce the judgment by obtaining a garnishee order nisi from Justice Aikawa.
“We’ve applied that the garnishee order be set aside too,” Ebosereme said.
He added: “They are canvassing seriously that they want to garnishee N300m and then come back and garnishee N30m. They have invariably increased the judgment sum to N330m. My lord it is high time counsel are warned so that they will stop to deceive the court. This is deliberate. This is deliberate.”
He prayed the panel to dismiss the petition, arguing that “If this panel allows this petition, it will affect the matter that is pending in court. It will the open the floodgates. All matters before courts will come before the panel. We’re praying that the petition be struck out.”
But applicant’s counsel Olalekan Ghazzali opposed him. He contended, among others, that Paschal had a right to be heard.
In a bench ruling, Justice Okuwobi upheld Ebosereme’s argument that the petition was an abuse of process.
She said:” On the reply of the petitioner’s counsel that it is within the petitioner’s right….to present its petition, this panel must subject itself to the jurisdiction of the appellate court and must not attempt to take any proceedings which will overreach the decision of the appellate court.
“The fact that there is a pending appeal at the Supreme Court against Appeal CAL/91A/2018 IGP vs Bruno..& Anor, is clearly established by the notice of appeal dated 7th October 2020. There is also an application in court for the setting aside of the garnishee order made by Aikawa J of the Federal High Court.
“For the petitioner in his petition to seek redress for restitution against police brutality and enforcement of the judgment sum in the petitioner’s favour by requesting for enforcement of N300m, is a grave abuse of process of court.
“The enrolled judgment of the Court of Appeal reducing the judgment to N30m is crystal clear and the petitioner’s counsel (Olukoya) Ogungbeje Esq was before the Court of Appeal when the judgment was delivered. To now (petition) for enforcement of N300m is a grave misrepresentation and non-disclosure of the actual state of affairs with the case. The notice of appeal to the Supreme Court was endorsed in the first place by… Olukoya Ogungbeje Esq. I find that the…documentary evidence before the court so glaring that the process before the court is one that constitutes serious abuse.
“The panel cannot be called upon to secure obedience to a judgment which has been varied by the appeal court and subject to a further appeal to the Supreme Court.
“The attempt to pull a wool over the eyes of the panel is respectfully resisted by the respondents. On the whole we find this petition lacking in merit and one intended to put the panel on a collision course with proceedings pending before appellate courts. We will not fall into this judicial trap. The petition is incompetent, lacking in merit, and accordingly hereby dismissed for being an abuse of process of court.”
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