The serene environment of court processes was torn into commotion on Tuesday, July 12, 2023, at the Nchia High Court, Eleme in Rivers State when the trial of the MOSOP president, Fegalo Nsuke and eleven other members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) resumed.
Twelve members of MOSOP including its president, Fegalo Nsuke and are standing trial for contempt of a judgement delivered by the same court in Suit No. NHC/161/2018.
Nsuke and his co-defendants argue in their defense documents that the judgment in question is being challenged at the Court of Appeal and therefore all parties must maintain the status quo until the court processes are concluded. The defendants say the pending appeal challenging Suit No. NHC/161/2018 strips the lower court of the jurisdiction to hear the matter.
The right to appeal a judgment is a constitutional rights in Nigeria and denying the defendants those rights is a fundamental violation of their human rights and the Nigerian Constitution. Ogoninews.com confirmed that the necessary appeal court documents have been filed before the court.
The business of the day was uncertain as during the previous hearing, presiding Judge, Constance D. Green, had signaled an intention to take a motion filed by appellants’ counsel seeking to replace the appellants with new set of appellants. That raised lots of questions given that judgment had already been delivered in the matter and a preliminary objection raised by one of the defendants, Celestine Viura, challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter was pending.
One of the appellants, Obadiah Baah had earlier written to the court to state that the proceedings were fraudulent and did not have his consent. The other two appellants, Fmr. Comr. Bob Maxwell and Barinordum Keeh, have never shown up during the trial. Bob Maxwell showed up for the first time on Tuesday July 11 and appeared with a different counsel.
Celestine Viura who raised the preliminary objection had argued that the judgment which is the subject of the trial was currently being challenged at the Court of Appeal and therefore only the Court of Appeal can entertain any matter emanating from the judgment.
The court room was thrown into commotion on Tuesday (July 11, 2023) when two legal teams announced appearances for the claimants. Mr. N. Tsaanakaa had announced appearance for the appellants. Suddenly, another counsel, yet to be identified as at the time of filing this report and will simply be referred to as Counsel B in this story, announced appearance for the same parties.
Counsel B presented a debriefing letter which was written to Mr. N. Tsaanakaa by the first appellant, Fmr. Comrade Bob Maxwell, on the 1st of February, 2021 directing him to stop further representation of the claimants and other appellants in the matter and to hand over all documents to him. But despite the debriefing note, Tsaanakaa continued to appear in court to prosecute the matter.
The court appeared to have been thrown into confusion following the multiple appearances for the same set of appellants.
Meanwhile, a preliminary objection was pending before the court. The preliminary objection amongst others which is challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter. states inter alia:
- The judgment upon which the contempt proceedings is initiated is currently being challenged at the Court of Appeal and therefore the High Court lack jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
- That the processes were defective and lacked credibility on the grounds that the judgment had three defendants while forms 48 and form 49 had 12 twelve defendants.
- That the counsel said to be representing the appellants had long being debriefed in a letter dated 1st February, 2021.
The matter was adjourned to November 7, 2023.
Ogoninews.com will continue to follow the events and report as the news trickle in.