The Court of Appeal sit
ting in Port Harcourt, has described as an abuse of court process the judgment of a Port Harcourt High Court delivered on the 16th of February 2011.
In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal held that the judgment of February 2011 with Suit No. PHC/623/99 was delivered against a substantive judgment delivered by a court of coordinate jurisdiction with suit No. PHC/13/88.
The appeal was filled by Chief James Irianga Otoko, Mr Nicholas Ogbobongibdim and Alfred Otugot representing the Otobo-Alama family of Agwut-Obolo.
Chief Solomon Aderia, Chief Edward Nkangwung Oyaka, Jonah Akong and Owajita Apubok Nathaniel representing Adarca family of Agwut-Oboto were the first set of respondents, while Chief Ernest Ikpante Nde Ekor, Chief Edward Nkangwung Oyaka, Mr William O. William and Bertran Hezekiah representing the Ekor family of Agwut-Obolo were second set of respondents.
Counsel for the Appellants D-O Ezaga had raised two issues for determination, which includes, whether the High Court of Rivers State has jurisdiction to make orders vesting entitlement of stool of Okan-Ama of Agwut-Obolo on the first set of respondents and restraining the Appellants from interfering with that entitlement and whether the appellants are not entitled to produce the Okon-Ama of Agwut-Obolo.
However, the counsel to the first set of respondents Dr Z. Adangor, argued whether the trial judge was right in granting the first set of respondents the declaratory and injunctive reliefs sought as well as whether the trial judge was right in dismissing the appellants counter claim in its entirety. On his part the counsel to second set of Respondents, Chief O.T.K.D Amachree, submitted that the trial court ought to have dismissed the counter claims of each of first set of respondents and appellants against themselves as “they strove to have a second bite at the cherry on an already decided case between them”.
In the lead judgments Hon. Justice Modupe Fasanmi, held that an abuse of legal process is of jurisdictional importance as where a condition for initiating a legal process is laid down, any suit instituted in contravention of the precondition provision is incompetent and a court lacks jurisdiction to entertain same.
The Judge also held that, Suit PHC/623/99 constitutes a fundamental defect of abuse of court process.
“The absurdity is that, the Rivers State High Court has given two conflicting judgments for and against the first set of respondents on the same subject matter in separate suits.
The lower court has no jurisdiction in law to give judgment to the first sets of respondents whose case has been dismissed by a court of coordinate jurisdiction.
“In the end the judgement of the lower court in suit No. PHC/623/99 delivered on the 16th of February, 2011 is hereby set aside.
The suit No PHC/623/99 is hereby dismissed for abuse of court process. The order of dismissal of the suit shall be the order of the lower court.
“Consequently, the appeal is hereby dismissed”.
The Court of Appeal sit