Absence of witness stalls ex-investment tribunal chairman’s suit

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The absence of a witness on Tuesday stalled hearing in a suit filed by the former Chairman of Investment and Securities Tribunal (IST),  Siaka Idoko-Akoh, against the Minister of Finance and five others before the National Industrial Court.

Idoko-Akoh is challenging his wrongful and unlawful removal.

Other defendants in the suit are the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Finance, Dr Mahmoud Isa-Dutse, J.I Udunni, acting Chairman of IST, and the Attorney-General of the Federation.

The claimant is also seeking N500 million as general damages against the defendants for the emotional and psychological trauma he allegedly suffered as a result of his removal from office.

When the matter slated for defence came up, the first, second and third defendants counsel, A. Shamaki, informed the court that he had earlier written a letter informing it that his witness would not be available for Tuesday’s proceeding.

“After the last sitting on May 24, when we took June 7 for defence, I discovered on May 25 that the witness would be out of the country from June 7 to June 10.

“It is based on this discovery that I quickly wrote a letter to the court. In the circumstance, I humbly ask for another adjournment, subject to the convenience of the court,” the counsel said.

The claimant’s counsel, Isaac Ekpa, in response, submitted that he was given a copy of the letter written by Shamaki asking for adjournment, just before the day’s proceeding.

In addition, Ekpa said that the counsel ought to have informed them when he sent the letter to the court on May 25.

He further said, “we reluctantly concede to this adjournment for the last time, and we are asking for the cost of N50,000.

The fourth, fifth and sixth defendants’ counsel, C. Ogbonna, said that he was not opposing Shamaki’s application for adjournment.

The Judge, Justice Osatohanmwen Obaseki-Osaghae, said in her ruling that the matter, which was fixed for defence, could not go on as a result of the letter written by Shamaki.

She stated that the counsel ought to have copied the claimant’s counsel.

The judge awarded the sum of N50,000 in favour of the claimant, adding that the cost must be paid before the next adjourned date.

Obaseki-Osaghae adjourned the matter until Oct. 6 for defence.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that on the last adjourned date, Shamaki had brought an application to amend their witness’ statement on oath, and to recall the claimant, having been foreclosed by the court earlier.

The court, therefore, granted the application by deeming the witness’ statement on oath as properly filed, served and proceeded to grant leave for the claimant to be recalled.

The claimant took to the stand and testified that he was never issued a query.

He, however, admitted to be given a preliminary letter, which he responded to.

In addition, Idoko-Akoh had stated when asked for the reason he was in court, said that he went to court because he was unjustly removed.

In response to Shamaki’s question about the name of his employer, the claimant responded that the Federal Government employed him.

He also said that by virtue of his appointment and posting, he was an appointee of the Presidency.

Shamaki, who was supposed to open defence at the end of the cross-examination, however, informed the court that the document he was to present was not ready, and this led to the court adjourning the matter until Tuesday.

NAN also reports that the claimant was appointed as the chairman of the IST on Aug. 1, 2017 and removed on Sept 24, 2019.

Idoko-Akoh had, therefore, approached the court to seek redress and prayed the court to declare that his removal was wrongful, unlawful and contravened Sections 277 to 279 of the IST Act 2007, having not been either found culpable or indicted, or charged for any misconduct.

The claimant is further seeking the court’s declaration that his appointment as the chairman of the Tribunal was for a secured tenure of five years, and could not be removed from office except in accordance or in compliance with the provisions of Sections 277 to 279 of the IST Act 2007.

In addition, Idoko-Akoh is seeking the court’s declaration that the acting chairman does not possess or qualify to be the acting chairman of the Tribunal, as prescribed by the IST Act 2007.

He is also seeking an order of the court to declare as invalid, null, void and of no effect, the letter dated Sept. 24 2019, removing him as the chairman of the Tribunal.

The claimant is also seeking an order of the court to set aside, nullify and invalidate the letter of Sept. 24 2019, purporting to have removed him from office as the chairman of the Tribunal.

As such, Idoko-Akoh is asking the court to compel the defendants in the alternative to pay him N251million as salaries, allowances and other entitlements, in lieu of the remaining three-year tenure as chairman, and an additional N10 million as cost of prosecuting the suit.(NAN)