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N156bn court case: Judge suspends rulings over ‘breach’ of professional conduct by lawyer

Justice Akintayo Aluko of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Friday suspended the reading of two rulings in an alleged N156,026,032,804.84 (billion) debt…

Justice Akintayo Aluko of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Friday suspended the reading of two rulings in an alleged N156,026,032,804.84 (billion) debt recovery suit following a letter by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Wahab Shittu, praying the Chief Judge to transfer the case.

Justice Aluko noted that the rulings over two different Applications were ready and scheduled to be delivered same Friday, but that he was constrained not to proceed, pending the Chief Judge’s decision on Shittu’s letter.

Some of the parties in the suit marked FHC/L/CS8/2074/2023 are United Bank of Africa (UBA) as Plaintiff, represented in the suit by Mr. Temilolu Adamolekun, against Stallion Nigeria Limited and its subsidiaries as defendants.

Shittu is a counsel to the 1st, 2nd, 5th to 11th defendants. UBA is seeking to recover the N156b from Stallion Nigeria Limited and had appointed a Receiver over mortgaged properties of Stallion Nigeria Limited and its subsidiaries in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano, in line with the mortgage Deeds.

Upon resumption of proceedings on Friday, Adamolekun announced appearance for UBA, but Stallion was represented by a counsel from Shittu’s chambers.

Justice Aluko informed the parties that he had been notified by the Chief Judge, that Shittu had written a letter asking that the case be transferred from his court.

The judge explained that Shittu had alleged that the judge had been delaying the case with unwarranted adjournments.

The allegation, the judge added, was entirely false.

Adamolekun and even other counsel in the matter expressed shock at Shittu’s allegation and confirmed that contrary to the falsehood in Shittu’s letter, the matter had enjoyed expeditious hearings.

Coincidentally, Femi Falana (SAN) was in court and promised to “take up” the matter with Wahab Shittu SAN.

Justice Aluko, noted that the applications which were last heard include application for stay of proceedings in the matter, which must first be taken before hearing the substantive Originating Summons.

He said: “Rulings in these two applications are ready to be delivered, however, counsel to the 1st, 2nd, 5th to 11th defendants, in person or Wahab Shittu SAN, had written a letter, for the transfer of the case, to my Chief Judge, alleging delay, while citing unwarranted adjournments in this case.

“Wahab Shittu SAN’s letter for transfer of this case, dated 30th day of May 2024, written to my Chief Judge, I received a directive dated the 31st day of May, 2024, from my Chief Judge on the 13th day of June 2024, over the letter written by Wahab Shittu SAN, wherein my Chief Judge requested for my comment on the allegations, which I have submitted.

“The two rulings slated for today are ready, however, I cannot go against the directive of my Chief Judge which directed me to stay further action pending his decision on the matter, that is on the letter for transfer written to him by Shittu SAN.

“I only need to add that the allegations of Wahab Shittu SAN that the hearing of this substantive matter has been delayed because of unwarranted delays or adjournment, is not true.”

The judge noted that the case was commenced on October 24, 2023.

Justice Aluko added: “It will then make this the 10th sitting over the case, meaning that apart from today, I have sat over this case for not less than nine times. I have delivered nothing less than seven rulings on contentious Applications. On the last adjourned date, I heard two contentious Applications; over which rulings are slated for today.

“The said rulings are ready to be delivered, but proceedings have now been stalled by the letter written by Wahab Shittu SAN, therefore I cannot go on with the two rulings, because I have to wait for the decision of my Chief Judge on the letter written by Wahab Shittu SAN.”

Expressing shock at the letter, Adamolekun told the court that Shittu’s approach of communication with the Court, this time, the CJ without copying other lawyers in the matter is contrary to the rules of professional conduct.

He said: “I also wanted to express my surprise on the development. First of all, I know that the rules of professional conduct forbid where a lawyer in an ongoing matter would communicate whether with the court sitting over the matter or the CJ (in respect of the matter), without copying the lawyer on the other side. Specifically, I’m going to refer to Rule 31(5) and 34 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

“So, my Lord I’m surprised that this is coming from a Learned Senior Advocate. This is not Channels TV where you don’t have to communicate with any other lawyer before appearing there. This is a court of law, a court of record.

“We don’t have a choice. We have to wait. As for the allegations, if we had been copied, we would have had the opportunity to Counter the allegation, that’s what is called fairness. We would have responded to that petition and the CJ would have had the opportunity also to look at things from both sides.

“I know of ex-parte applications, but I’ve never heard of an ex-parte letter. It is unfortunate and embarrassing and I wish he was here himself.”

Adamolekun continues : “Mr. Wahab Shittu’s action has now delayed the matter, which was the same thing he alleged”

Another lawyer from the office of Mr. Babajide Koku SAN also expressed his surprise and said the step taken by Mr. Wahab Shittu SAN was rather unfortunate. He said he had a lot of respect for him.

Meanwhile, it would be noted that the Court had on more than two occasions suo motu brought forward dates for rulings as soon as they were ready.

At the penultimate adjournment, Mr. Wahab Shittu SAN, who made the allegation of delay was absent in court.

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