The Abia State Peoples Democratic Party says it has observed with dismay how the Chief Law Officer designate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Mr. Lateef Fagbemi and Governor Alex Otti’s legal team are attempting to intimidate the Abia Election Petition Tribunal.
Abia PDP said that Fagbemi, who has already been cleared by the Nigerian Senate and is due to be sworn in as the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Nigeria on Monday, August 21, 2023, Thursday showed up in court and sat beside Otti’s legal team during the Abia Election Petition Tribunal sitting.
This, the party said is “a graphic display of authority meant to intimidate both the petitioners, the Abia PDP, its candidate Sir Okey Ahiwe and members of the Abia Election Petition Tribunal”.
The Abia PDP Vice Chairman/Acting State Publicity Secretary, Hon. Elder Abraham Amah in a Press release said, “Mr. Lateef Fagbemi before his nomination and eventual designation as Nigeria’s Chief Law Officer was the lead counsel to Alex Otti and the Labour Party in the petition brought against them by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate Sir Okey Ahiwe, challenging the declaration of Alex Otti of the Labour Party as the winner in the Abia 2023 Governorship election.
Mr. Fagbemi’s presence in court yesterday (Thursday) was inconsiderate and as a senior lawyer, he ought to have known that having been nominated, screened, and designated as the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, he should no longer show up in court for cases in which he has private interests as in the case of Alex Otti and the Labour Party. His presence in the tribunal yesterday as a personal lawyer to a private litigant shows a grave and dangerous misunderstanding of the importance of the exalted position he is to occupy and casts doubts about his understanding of the weight and significance of that office.
“It is laughable that Alex Otti and Labour Party took to this panic measure because it has become obvious to them that the weight of evidence against them is highly overwhelming and as they have always done since the Tribunal started sitting, employed another needless hardball tactic to truncate the course of justice through technicalities, intimidation and interminable obstructive motions to delay the pronouncement of justice,” the Abia PDP said.
The party therefore expressed its disappointment with the incoming Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi “who has even before assumption of office started to show partiality through his body language and our only interpretation of his presence in court yesterday is that it was meant to send signals and intimidate members of the tribunal and the petitioners in the matter. We also understand that his presence in court was to boost the dwindling fortunes of the respondents which is crumbling under the weight of evidence every day.
“In case Lateef Fagbemi has forgotten, the role of an attorney general and justice minister is to give impartial legal advice to the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not to take private briefs from individuals or continue to represent private citizens once he has accepted to serve as the country’s chief law officer.
“The Abia PDP is mindful of the fact that some prominent lawyers have already condemned his actions and also advised him to recuse himself from the case and face his duties as the Attorney General and Minister of Justice.
“And to Alex Otti and the Labour Party, Abia PDP advises them to allow justice to take a natural course and stop using intimidation and unnecessary tactics to torpedo the delivery of justice in the State because as it is now, all eyes are on the judiciary in Abia State.”
Although Fagbemi did not announce his appearance, his presence in court and his sitting with Otti’s lawyers was interpreted by some lawyers present as a “needless attempt to intimidate members of the tribunal”, and sent shockwaves among those present.
“After being nominated by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, screened, cleared and confirmed by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to serve as a Federal Minister, and having been assigned the portfolio of Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, one thought that Chief Lateef Fagbemi ought to know that he can no longer show up in court for private cases in which he has interests like that of Mr Otti”, one of the lawyers present quipped.
Another lawyer wondered “why Lawmakers appointed as ministers by President Bola Tinubu had to quit their former roles to attend Senate screening and focus on the job ahead but Fagbemi chose to cling to a private matter he was handling in court thereby casting doubts already about his impartiality as Minister of Justice. This is obviously a move to intimidate members of the tribunal”.
Meanwhile, in their reaction through a statement signed by its Convener, Comrade Ukachukwu Chinonso and the Secretary-General, Comrade Mrs Maria Nwokoma, and made available to the media in Umuahia, the Abia Renaissance Movement, ARM, said, “Having accepted public service, we wonder why Mr Fagbemi should still concern himself with private matters.”