The Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses has dismissed a petition seeking to enforce a N300 million court judgment against the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court had awarded the sum as compensation against the police for the death of one Jimoh Kehinde in 2018.
Two years after the penalty was awarded, one Paschal Bonu brought the case before the judicial panel as the third petition heard on Tuesday.
But before the petition could be heard by the panel, the police counsel, Joseph Ebosereme, raised a preliminary objection.
He informed the panel that the matter was already the subject of a civil suit that had been litigated up to the Supreme Court, before which it was pending.
“It is an abuse of court process presenting a matter already pending before a competent court. It amounts to double jeopardy in our Constitution,” the policeman said.
According to him, the petitioner was aware that the N300 million judgment debt had been reviewed downwards by the Court of Appeal in Lagos.
“The police filed an appeal, judgment was delivered at the Court of Appeal, reducing the amount from N300 million to N30 million,” Ebosereme said.
He informed the panel that the police had even approached the Supreme Court to further challenge that decision.
The counsel explained that Paschal attempted to enforce the judgment by obtaining a garnishee order nisi from Justice Aikawa.
“We’ve applied that the garnishee order be set aside too. They are canvassing seriously that they want to garnishee N300 million and then come back and garnishee N30 million.
“They have invariably increased the judgment sum to N330 million. My Lord, it is high time counsel were warned so that they will stop to deceive the court. This is deliberate. This is deliberate,” he decried.
The policeman, therefore, asked the panel to dismiss the petition, arguing that “If this panel allows this petition, it will affect the matter that is pending in court.
“It will open the floodgates. All matters before courts will come before the panel. We’re praying that the petition be struck out,” he submitted.
The petitioner’s counsel, Olalekan Ghazali, however, objected to the views of the police counsel and contended, among others, that Paschal had a right to be heard.
A Judicial Trap
In a bench ruling, the chairman of the panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi, upheld Ebosereme’s argument that the petition was an abuse of process.
“On the reply of the petitioner’s counsel that it is within the petitioner’s right… to present its petition, this panel must subject itself to the jurisdiction of the appellate court and must not attempt to take any proceedings which will overreach the decision of the appellate court.
“The fact that there is a pending appeal at the Supreme Court against IGP vs Bruno … & Anor, is clearly established by the notice of appeal dated 7th October 2020. There is also an application in court for the setting aside of the garnishee order made by Aikawa J of the Federal High Court,” she said.
Justice Okuwobi added, “For the petitioner in his petition to seek redress for restitution against police brutality and enforcement of the judgment sum in the petitioner’s favour by requesting for enforcement of N300m, is grave abuse of process of the court.
“The enrolled judgment of the Court of Appeal reducing the judgment to N30 million is crystal clear and the petitioner’s counsel (Olukoya Ogungbeje Esq) was before the Court of Appeal when the judgment was delivered.
“To now (petition) for enforcement of N300 million is a grave misrepresentation and non-disclosure of the actual state of affairs with the case. The notice of appeal to the Supreme Court was endorsed in the first place by… Olukoya Ogungbeje Esq. I find that the … documentary evidence before the court is so glaring that the process before the court is one that constitutes serious abuse.”
The chairman held that the panel cannot be called upon to secure obedience to a judgment that has been varied by the appeal court and subject to a further appeal to the Supreme Court.
According to her, the petition lacks merit and is intended to put the panel on a collision course with proceedings pending before appellate courts.
“We will not fall into this judicial trap. The petition is incompetent, lacking in merit, and accordingly hereby dismissed for being an abuse of process of the court,” Justice Okuwobi ruled.