Open Letter To The Chief Judge, Federal High Court, Abuja

By Odilim Enwegbara

The Chief Judge
Federal High Court,
Dear Sir

I was in court today for a case that came up today, November 16, 2023. But the court did not sit. The case was adjourned to February 13, 2024. But before it came up today, it came up on July 13, 2023 and was adjourned to today November 16, 2023. It was moved to today simply because a day to July 13, 2023 the defense counsel sent a letter demanding an adjournment. As simple as that, his wishes were granted by the judge who only informed us about the adjournment in court that morning.

Even before July 13, 2023, the same case came up for mentioning on May 4, 2023 and was moved to July 13, 2023. Surely, like what happened to it on July 13, 2023, on Feb 13, 2024 the case may also witness another adjournment either due to the court not sitting or because of another letter from the defense counsel. And with this legitimate technicality the delays go on and on. This is only one of the eight (8) cases I brought against the president and numerous agencies of the federal government.

Take another case that I have in the same court that is coming up on December 7, 2023. Wondering what would be the fate of that case too, I had to inquire about it. It came up on October 11, 2023 and was adjourned to December 7, 2023. Usually not surprised, the court registrar made it clear to me that the court definitely may not be sitting on December 7, 2023. In other words, that case too is going to be adjourned to sometime in March 2024. Bear in mind that this case too has been witnessing some endless adjournments too since it was filed in 2021.

What about another case which I filed in 2019? This too having gone through such endless adjournments was early this year withdrawn by the office of the Chief Judge for reassignment to another judge. But it had to remain with the said Chief Judge’s office for months unassigned until after I had to severally visit the Chief Judge’s office regarding the case before it was eventually reassigned to a new judge. As usual, from court records the reassignment took place sometime in May 2023. But guess what happened! Since then, the case is only coming up for the first time on December 14, 2023. Surely, based on that court’s records, I was informed that the court may unlikely sit that day. Their argument was that most courts hardly sit after the first week of December, 2023 given that the judges plan to leave town earlier for their Christmas vacation. Since I wouldn’t want to bore you with too many of these stories and the fact that it is still subjudice to discuss in details these cases in court, let it me end it here, believing that the short stories given so far have sufficiently explained my disappointments with how my cases are frustrated both by the judges and the defense counsel who have endlessly employed delays and technicalities.

All over the civilized world, the judiciary has been recognized and praised as the last hope of the common man. This is due to the very fact that in an order to promote justice and fairness for all, the powerful is never allowed to get away with their unlawful actions in the society, especially against the less powerful, who being the most vulnerable are in most cases their easiest victims. And it is in line with this that the judiciary has been recognized as the last hope of the common man. But to also avoid justice delayed to become justice denied effectively and speedily dispensing cases in court has remained such a worldwide judicial norm even in less democratic societies too.

When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the then President of Nigeria came to Cambridge Massachusetts sometime in late 1999, he begged Nigerians at both Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to waste no time in returning home once they’re done so that they could help in the rebuilding Nigeria’s economy bastardized by the long military governments in Nigeria. Most of Nigerians who were at that meeting believed that that was assignment they were duty-bound as patriotic citizens of Nigeria to carry out. And because his request came at a time leaders from China and India were also visiting and inviting their own citizens to be headed home, we too couldn’t justify remaining behind when those from other countries were returning home. So once we finished our education most of us headed home.

I remember some of my Chinese friends at MIT who having spent years working on high speed rail technology, told me how they were already working with Chinese government on how to transform China into the world’s leaders in rail transportation technology with China becoming home to the fastest trains in the world. From our conversations I was made to understand that these Chinese engineering graduates were already being awaited in Beijing. I also remember vividly the case of some Indians biochemical scientists who too were focusing on how they would turn Indian into the world’s generic pharmaceutical drug manufacturing hub of the 21st century. And cleverly using some backdoor catching up strategies they hoped to beat western pharmaceutical multinational giants within a decade or little more.

Like these Chinese, these Indians too were looking forward to going to help in the transformation of India first into as a low-tech industrial giant and immediately later by leapfrogging India’s wealth of highly educated population, also quickening its high-tech industrial economic growth. This everyone at that level knew to be where the real value is captured. And who else have been holding this end closely themselves than western economic powers, who using their multinational corporations have endlessly excluded others from this competitive edge?

Little wonder today, while China is leading the world in speed train technology, India on the other hand is making hundreds of billions of dollars, thanks to too leading one generic drugs manufacturing, which mostly get exported to poor countries like Nigeria.

So why shouldn’t we too dream of going home too to help our country too become what our Chinese and Indian counterparts wanted for their own countries? In doing that, I developed interests in developing Nigeria’s small business cluster financing along with the concept of of product designing and development support techniques.

But also having a world-class research intensive technical university, where the country’s ever best minds both as students and as faculty are supposed to be gathered became my second priority in an effort to ensure we simultaneous develop both our low-tech and high-tech, high-knowledge ends for the country’s future entrepreneurs. I had the belief that if Chinese and Indians could do it because they have an army technically trained young men and women with digital innovative technology business mindsets, we too should leapfrog our technical know-how based education for our own knowledge driven industrialization. In other words, as late as Nigeria would be joining the industrial race and the need quicken its fast-tracking, the best bet was the philosophy of double-leapfrogging of such industrialization by simultaneously pursuing both low-tech and high-tech industrialization ends.

But after one and half decades, how did all these dreams end up? What is my personal story today? Is mine different from the stories of others who too rushed back to Nigeria to help? Were all my planned projects and accompanying proposals presented to government after government in Nigeria not ended up stolen by the same government after government, who when you demanded back your proposals, without any time wasted tell you “Go to Court?”

And having headed to the said courts all these years for justice, what else have I got than endless delays driven by adjournments after adjournments, which in most cases are part of the legitimate court technicalities to keep you endlessly frustrated? By making me discover that actually telling you to “Go to Court” in its true meaning is go and die if you don’t want to walk away. If as a common man I cannot go to court to have what is stolen from me, what else should I have to do in a civilized society? Even if I am doing so wasting not only my precious time but also my very little financial resources, what else would have been my another alternative?

Having been a victim of this Nigerian unjust judicial system — especially haplessly watching the very unacceptable ways our judges and their aides work simply against you while aiding government to have its way using delay measures in frustrating your cases — is it not obvious to me that by telling me to “Go to Court,” certainly I have taken that unknown road to nowhere? Who exactly can I cry to regarding my hopelessness, my being a victim of the injustices in my own country? Since justice delayed is justice denied, is my being in court against the ever powerful government and its agencies not a confirmation of why these government officials have always told me to “Go to Court?”

Since I decided to start pursuing the recovery of my stolen proposals by the presidency and the various agencies of government at the Federal High Court in Abuja starting in 2019, when will one of these cases ever be concluded? In other words, when can I expect justice done given how the cases are endlessly pushed around? With such endless adjournments and judges giving dates they already knew they would never be sitting, am I not a fool to be endlessly expecting justice with such cases where the defense counsels endlessly apply for and endlessly get adjournments granted?

How possible is justice for the common man in such a scenario where either that the defense counsel is not disposed to be in court or that the judge couldn’t make it to the court too due to whatever reasons? Or are you going to ever question the judge’s absence in court? If you have to, who would you have to direct such a question to? What about when this delay is exhausted and then the court begins with another set of delays, such as adjournments on the basis of family matters and later adjournments on the basis of unavoidable absence of either the defense counsel for attending to promotion examinations or the judge attending some national or international training workshops?

Don’t forget also the fact that once the defense counsels have received your case against their client, which happens to be one of the government agencies, the endless delays are instantly set in motion. Starting with all manner of Preliminary Objections, your best bet is to patiently wait for this round of delays to fully play out. This must happen even before thinking about getting to the main issue of your case against this government agency. Of course, years of such back and forth correspondences — disagreements between counsels to the two parties too must have to be allowed to go through. This must happen whether you like it or not.

Unless the defense wins their Preliminary Objectives, then the next round of delays begins. It starts with the case going through another endless mentioning, further mentioning and further-further mentioning. And should one be lucky enough to have one’s case scale through the huddle, then comes the hearing stage. This too means another set of endless delays that could last for years. Here, the defense counsels will set in motion their series of delays, starting with coming to court with many adjournment letters. Who really cares about these questionable reasons? Unless you are willing to give up this legal battle, patient you must have to be and waiting and watching this too play its full course you must do without ever asking questions.

Don’t forget also that as the plaintiff, you must be the person endlessly mobilizing the court bailiffs, who you must be providing money on demand or else defendants will not come to court. This, you must knowingly do even when it is also certain that the courts may either not sitting or that the defense counsels may be sending requests for adjournment a day to the very date the case is coming up. As unfortunate and unbelievable as this could sound, the judges hardly have to be blamed for your predicaments. After all the said ease to grant adjournments without bothering about their effects on you the plaintiff is the least thing to bother them.

Showing up in court and being told that the defense attorney is absent becomes no longer surprising once the defense counsel’s request for another adjournment is granted and only handed to your own attorneys in court. Of course, whether the court sits or not, appearance fees too must have to be given to your lawyers each time to come to court. With all these delays and all manner of technicalities, should you have to wait for anyone to remind you why you were told to “Go to Court?”

As frustrated as you may become, why should the judges and the defense counsels be concerned after all, were they the ones who told you to go to court in Nigeria? Should you in all fairness blame them for your mistake of going to court? Are they one to tell at this juncture that abandoning your pursuit of justice is your best option if you don’t want to continue with a broken heart and financial ruins?

Is it not an irony that your friends who refused to return home and as a result doing well in their respective careers — and who have also been laughing at those of us who returned home — eventually become invited home to made ministers, while you are seen as a failure? At this juncture, who else should be blamed for your mistake than your patriotic self? Now that you have lost their visa wavers and free entry rights, your plans to return to the same country you earlier left decades ago become such uphill tasks. With your kind of disappointing story told across the world, one then, wonders who in their right senses would after hearing your predicaments want to invest in the same Nigeria!

In other words, if Nigerian investors are these recipients of injustices in their own country, can any sane foreign investor ever try coming to invest in the same Nigeria? Is that not why all we have been seeing in Nigeria all these year are foreign fraudsters, who masking themselves as genuine foreign investors are only coming here to connive with their local counterparts, most of whom are corrupt top politicians and government officials who all that matters to them is how to easily enrich themselves while the economy bleeds to death? In this joint fraud, can these same people who tell you to “Go to Court” ever tell their partners in crime too to “Go to Court?”

Dear Chief Judge, I am not writing you this petition because I believe that you can single-handedly change this rotten judicial system. I will be foolish to even imagine you being able to do that. I am only writing you to have my personal experience shared with your office and for the records. I know that I have gone to where every sane person ought not to go to, given the kind of consequences thereafter awaiting such a brave person. But having fearlessly spoken where no one has ever spoken and having lost one and half decades of my then promising career path in my own country, what else would I have to lose speaking this fearlessly, where even powerful senior advocates have all consistently stayed away from or else should they ever speak out, they too should become marked by these unjust justices?

Because I know that if not that your hands are tied you would have seen reasons with me, let me in closing wish your office my highest regards.

Odilim Basil Enwegbara
Chief Justice of Nigeria, Supreme Court
Supreme Court of Nigeria
Three Arms Zone 900103,
President, Nigerian Bar Association
NBA House, Plot 1101
Mohammadu Buhari Way, Central Business District,