By Kenneth Atavti
Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho has reversed himself in his earlier rejection of a request by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi for the transfer of a case pending against him to a new judge for hearing during Easter vacation.
Justice Tsoho had in a letter dated April 7, 2022, written by his Special Assistant (SA), Ambrose Unaeze rejected Amaechi’s request for a suit transfer which he made in a March 31, 2022 letter through his lawyer, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN).
But, in a fresh letter dated April 14, 2022 Justice Tsoho overruled himself and agreed to transfer part of the case marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1587/2021 to a new Judge.
The suit is challenging Amaechi’s handling of the process for the award of contract for operators of Nigeria’s International Cargo Tracking Note (ICTN) to a new judge.
A civil group, the Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER) instituted the suit against Amaechi, accusing him of manipulating the contract process in favour of two local and inexperienced firms – Medtech Scientific Limited and Rozi International Nigeria Limited.
On December 17, 2021, following an ex parte application by CASER, the court restrained parties from taking any further steps in relation to the appointment of operators of the ICTN (an electronic cargo verification system that monitors the shipments of seaborne cargoes and enables a real-time generation of vital data on ships and cargo traffic in and out of Nigeria).
But on March 23, 2022 CASER’s lawyer, Abdulhakeem Mustapha (SAN) reported to the court presided over by Justice Donatus Okorowo that Amaechi had allegedly violated the court’s order of December 17, prompting the judge to endorse filing of contempt charge against the minister.
Justice Okorowo also directed the suspension of proceedings in the substantive suit to give way to hearing of contempt charge against Amaechi and fixed May 9 for ruling in a joinder application and commencement of contempt proceeding.
Rather than wait till the May 9, Amaechi, through his lawyer, wrote the March 31 letter, claiming utmost urgency, among others and requested that the case against him be reassigned to the court’s vacation judge for urgent hearing.
Responding, Justice Tsoho in the April 7 letter, declined the request, stating: “I am to inform you that there have been counter posturing regarding the re-assignment or otherwise of this matter.
“It is discerned that arguments were heard by Hon. Justice D.U Okorowo on 23rd March, 2022 in respect of alleged contempt and ruling scheduled for 9th May, 2022. It will hence be disruptive to contemplate a re-assignment of this case.
“Besides, the Easter vacation is for two weeks and there is no guarantee that the vacation Judge can gain any appreciable ground as to convey an advantage over the regular Court in terms of hearing of the suit. In the circumstance, the Hon. Chief Judge declined the application”, he said.
But following another letter by Ameachi’s lawyer, dated April 13, 2022, Justice Tsoho changed his mind and agreed that a portion of the suit be reassigned to the court’s vacation judge.
Justice Tsoho’s fresh letter, dated: April 14, written by his SA (Unaeze) in response to Amaechi’s new letter, reads: “I am directed by the Hon. Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to refer to your letter of 13th April, 2022 in respect of the above subject matter.
“Having considered the responses as per your letters dated 13th April 2022, 1st April, 2022 respectively, it is noted as follows: that there is presently no indication of any proper or formal application for contempt proceedings”, he added.