Mr. Olukoya Ogungbeje, the counsel of detained notorious kidnapper Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike a.k.a. Evans failed to appear for the hearing on the N300 million fundamental human rights lawsuit he initiated against the Nigerian Inspector General of Police (IGP) for “unlawful” detention of the kidnap kingpin.
The case, scheduled for today before Justice Abdulaziz Anka of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, could not proceed as Mr. Ogungbeje, was absent in court claiming he took ill.
Ogungbeje had written to the court, seeking an adjournment on the grounds of ill health.
But Justice Anka awarded a punitive cost of N20,000 against him for what he described as unprofessional conduct.
The judge noted that while Ogungbeje wrote to the court, seeking an adjournment on the grounds of ill health, he did not send a copy of the letter to the counsel to the police.
According to the judge, it is unprofessional for a lawyer to communicate with a judge without carrying the other parties along.
The judge warned Ogungbeje to desist from such conduct.
In a short ruling, Justice Anka held, "The court has noted the conduct of counsel, who wrote to the court without copying other parties. This is unprofessional. The court hereby warns the counsel to desist from such a conduct."
He awarded a punitive cost of N20,000 Ogungbeje, holding that the money must be paid before the next adjourned date, otherwise, the lawyer would not be given audience.
When the case was called, an Executive Litigation Officer from Ogungbeje's law firm, Mr. Stephen Abunike, who appeared in court, told the judge that his principal was indisposed and had written a letter seeking an adjournment.
Abunike added that he had attempted to give a copy of the letter to the counsel for the police, Mr. Emmanuel Eze, but the counsel declined service.
Responding, Eze, who said he only just sighted the letter in court, noted that the letter was signed by one Saheed Sanni, a lawyer in Ogungbeje's law firm, who said their principal took ill and other lawyers in the office were engaged.
Eze urged Justice Anka to reject Sanni's excuse and to consider it as an affront to the court, saying it showed that the law firm was not serious.
"My Lord, I think it's an affront to this court and in view of this, we are of the view that the applicant's counsel is most unserious with this application. I pray this court to award a punitive cost of N100,000 against the applicant and his counsel," Eze said.
However, rather than N100,000, Justice Anka awarded N20,000 against Ogungbeje and adjourned the case till July 20.
In his fundamental rights enforcement suit, Evans, through Ogungbeje, is seeking a court order directing the police to charge him to court immediately or release him on bail if they are not ready to charge him to court.
Ogungbeje argued that Evans' detention since June 10, 2017 without being charged to court was a violation of his client's fundamental rights enshrined in sections 35 (1) (c) (3) (4) (5) (a) (b) and 36 of the Constitution.
For his alleged unlawful detention without being charged to court, Evans wants the court to award N300m damages against the police in his favor.