When Oche Ogbu filed a motion before Justice T. A Kume of High Court 6, Makurdi, Benue State, seeking to be substituted in a lawsuit by Makpo Oche Ogbu, his late father, he hoped to rest the dusts surrounding a July 9, 1999 judgment in favour of his father. But Samuel Ortom, the governor of the state, was casting a key into the work of justice.
Late Ogbu and Gooasu Company Ltd., his tenant, had in 1988 struggled in the court of law with Ibrahim Yakamata over plot 694, a property situated at no. 18, Old Otukpo Road (now known as Abudlahi Shelleng Road), Makurdi, Benue State.
Yakamata had mistaken plot 694 for 695, stopping the management of Gooasu Company Ltd. from freely utilising the property. But the high court, in its July 9, 1999 judgment, restrained him from trespassing on the property.
In a writ exclusively obtained by FIJ, the court ruled that plot 695 “is not one and the same with plot 694 and is neither in the situate of plot 695 and it does not belong to Ibrahim Yakamata”.
While the court dismissed Yakamata’s claim and told him to avoid further encroachment of plot 694, a N20,000 requital was awarded against him. The requital would cover 32 business days of lost earnings for Gooasu Company Ltd.
Still not satisfied with the ruling, Yakamata proceeded to the appeal court in 2001. Eleven years later, the Court of Appeal sitting in Makurdi ruled that the respondent (late Ogbu) was no longer alive. The court, therefore, dismissed the suit in 2011 following an oral application by Yakamta to withdraw the lawsuit.
ORTOM BENDS JUSTICE
Between 2002 and 2003, Ortom demolished and developed the judgment property and built Oracle Printing Press, one of his business outlets in the state. This was when Oche applied to be substituted for his late father, and his motion was granted on November 5, 2020.
On July 30, 2020, the governor invited Oche to the government house and negotiated with him to sell his own part of the property to him. “The governor said I should sell his own part of the property to him at the rate of N1.5 billion, Oche told FIJ. “I told him, ‘No problem,’ but I would like to enforce my judgment before I sold it.” Oche, however, told FIJ that the land is worth N25 billion.
Subsequently, Ortom resorted to office power. Oche said he had about three times intimidated him with the police, forcing him to declare the property his.
When that seemed not productive enough, the governor contracted David Moreino Ogbu, Oche’s stepbrother to complicate the case. David filed a motion through Gorge Ayai, a lawyer hired for him, that Oche misspelt the family name in his defence. David’s motion, as FIJ would learn, remains a barrier to justice for Oche.
To perfect the deal, the governor earmarked N96 million naira for David. Later on, he was awarded a Local Purchase Order (LPO) enabling him to supply maize to Oracle Farm, Samuel Ortom’s farm in Benue State. This, as FIJ’s findings would establish, was to enrich David to keep frustrating his brother’s lawsuit.
Further investigation revealed that David swindled Kaduna residents out of over N200 million through the LPO project awarded to him. This led to his arrest in 2020, but he would later be released this year. He is now on the police’s wanted list.
When David could not fight the battle anymore, he withdrew his motion on September 2, 2021, saying he was tired of being used by the governor. He was angry that the money promised was not given to him and the governor wanted him to keep compromising, despite having scores to settle with the police.
In a leaked audio obtained by FIJ, David says had Oche carried him along, he would not have accepted the LPO awarded to him by the governor through his Oracle Farm. “Now I am wanted and indebted to many as a result of the LPO,” he says.
But Richard Nongo, the Chief Protocol Officer to Samuel Ortom, declined to comment on the allegations against his principal.
Reasons the Benue State judiciary keeps ruling on a motion that has been withdrawn remain a mystery. A. I Ityonyiman is the lawyer hearing the case between Oche, David and Governor Ortom. But he would not dismiss the case following David’s withdrawal.
Prior to the withdrawal of his motion, David said he advised Ortom to resolve the matter amicably with Oche. He said the conversation was held in the governor’s library, and that Ayai, his lawyer, was present in the meeting.
Despite David’s stand, Ayai hoped that the governor would give them money to have his way to frustrate Oche’s suit. Yet, David was adamant. He told his lawyer he was no longer interested. He was concerned about the LPO saga and nothing more.
FIJ understands that Ayai was unprofessional in handling the case. The matter had ended up in the Court of Appeal and there was no justification to raise such a matter in a High Court. Festus Ogun, a human rights lawyer, told FIJ that only the Supreme Court can look at such an issue.
When contacted, Ogenyi Onazi, the Registrar Litigation of Benue State High Court, told FIJ to visit the High Court for information.
THE OVERLOOKED PETITION
On December 12, 2020, Oche petitioned Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), drawing his attention to the illegal practice of the Benue State Judiciary, under the leadership of Justice Aondaver Kakaan, the state chief judge.
In a response signed by the CJN on June 30, 2021, Oche was assured that action would be taken. He said he had written several reminders but he continued to suffer from Benue’s corrupt judicial system. Recently, he wrote the CJN again, copying Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president, Department of State Service (DSS) and the Chief Justice of Benue State.
When FIJ contacted the Supreme Court, a respondent told our reporter to advise Oche to write a reminder to follow up.
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