There was mild drama at a Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday, after Justice James Omotosho adjourned the hearing of a bail application of Prof. Cyril Ndifon, the suspended Dean of Faculty of Law, University of Calabar (UNICAL), until Jan. 31.
The adjournment followed counsel for the prosecution, Osuobeni Akponimisingha’s objection that he was just being served with Ndifon’s further affidavit and would need time to study the process in the interest of fair hearing.
The development did not go down well with Solomon Umoh, SAN, who appeared for Ndifon and Sunny Anyanwu, the co-defendant.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is prosecuting Ndifon and Anyanwu (1st and 2nd defendants) on allegations bordering on sexual harassment and threatening the star witness in the case.
Anyanwu, who is one of the lawyers in the defence, was joined in the amended charge filed on Jan. 22 by the ICPC on allegation that he called one of the prosecution witnesses on her mobile telephone during the pendency of the charge against Ndifon to threatened her.
Justice Omotosho had, on Thursday, ordered the two defendants to be remanded in Kuje Correctional Centre pending the hearing of their bail applications.
The judge, who adjourned the matter until today (Friday), held that the bail request would be taken after the trial.
When the matter was called on Friday for continuation of trial, Umoh prayed the court to allow the hearing of his clients’ bail applications before the trial but Akponimisingha opposed it, saying based on the previous day’s directive of the court, the trial should be taken first.
The ICPC lawyer argued further that he was just being served with the latest application filed on Thursday by Umoh and that he would need time to study it whether to respond or not.
But Umoh told the court that Akponimisingha was being economical with the truth because he was aware of the medical report attached to the application already, and that the instant application was just an adjunct.
He said when the judge admitted Ndifon to temporary bail on Jan. 10 to enable him go for a glaucoma surgery slated for Jan. 11, it took them about a week to perfect the bail before the professor could proceed.
He said the latest documents attached to the bail application had been verified by the ICPC in Exhibit PF3
“So why will the counsel seek for an adjournment?” he asked.
Besides, Umoh argued that Akponimisingha had no right to file any other process after the one he filed “because this is the final process.”
He insisted that bail is a constitutional right which should not be taken away from his clients, even though they had been subjected to media trial.
“We are talking of a constitutional right of a professor of Law to liberty,” he said.
The senior lawyer urged the court to overrule Akponimisingha and proceed to hear the bail plea.
Umoh said in the event that his application was not granted, “we ask that the interim bail be extended because he (Ndifon) has an imminent irreversible eye defect.”
But the anti-graft commission’s lawyer disagreed with Umoh.
He argued that the exhibit (Exhibit PF3) that the learneD silk cited that they verified was in response to the medical report dated Dec. 29, 2023, and not the one dated Jan. 19.
He said contrary to Umoh’s claim, the commission had not verified the latest exhibit (Exhibit A).
“We have not verified the instant exhibit dated 19th day of January, 2024. He just serves me about three minutes ago.
“I am just seeing this document for the first time. Fair hearing demands that I be allowed to see it whether to respond to it or not.
“That is my reserved right which cannot be taken away from me. That is why I sought an adjournment to enable me look into it,” he said.
Ruling, Justice Omotosho said in view of the fact that the further affidavit filed on Jan. 25 by Umoh was served on Akponimisingha in the courtroom, “it is fair hearing that the lawyer be given time to respond.”
He said since accelerated hearing had been granted in the matter, the court would give a short adjournment.
The judge consequently adjourned the matter until Jan. 31 for hearing of the bail applications.
But shortly after the adjournment, Umoh stood up to address the court.
The senior lawyer, who insisted that bail is a constitutional matter, said the application he brought was in line with the constitution.
He reminded that Ndifon did not flout the interim bail granted by the court, hence the need to admit him to bail or extend the earlier one granted him.
“I beg in the name of God that he should be granted the bail in the terms granted him earlier,” he said.
Responding, Justice Omotosho said the earlier bail granted was granted on the premise that there were facts before the court that Ndifon was going for a medical surgery on a scheduled date.
He said even though they were unable to conclude on the bail application, the defendant was allowed to go on bail but did not undergo the surgery in the long run.
He said the facts about the present application were not before the court.
“You filed a process on Jan. 25 and you served the prosecution counsel today.
“That process has a medical report that was not before the court and the prosecution said he needs to respond
“I have looked at my diary and there are many cases on Monday and Tuesday.
“Even on Wednesday, Jan. 31, I have about 19 cases but I conceded to ensure that the bail application is taken,” the judge explained politely.
Umoh then prayed the court to take Anyanwu’s bail, saying “the bail of the 2nd defendant is independent of the 1st defendant. I will always thank you.”
Umoh consistently addressed the court using the word, “You,” and the judge corrected him, saying “learneD silk, you are 13 years as senior advocate. You don’t address the court using ‘you’.”
“Don’t judge me with this because I am on my weakest point today,” Umoh responded.