The National Industrial Court in Abuja again on Friday refused an oral application by the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET) for a stay of proceedings in a motion brought against it by a whistleblower, Sambo Abdullahi.
The NBET lawyer, Olayinka Arase, had made the oral application before the trial judge, Kiyersohot Damulak, after he notified the NIC of his pending request at the Court of Appeal.
Mr Arase’s request at the Court of Appeal is challenging a decision of the NIC for parties to maintain the status quo pending the determination of another motion brought by Mr Abdullahi.
Mr Abdullahi is a worker with NBET. He and another whistleblower, Waziri Bintube, had exposed several alleged fraudulent acts by NBET’s Managing Director, Marilyn Amobi.
He approached the industrial court after his salaries were stopped by the electricity company on controversial grounds.
Mr Abdullahi also asked the court to restrain NBET from doing anything that will further affect his appointment.
The industrial court at its previous hearing ruled against the request on further actions by Mr Abdullahi. It asked that parties maintain the status quo pending the determination of the substantive suit.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, however, Mr Arase approached the Court of Appeal but failed to make a written application before the NIC, regarding his motion at the upper court.
The appeal was on the grounds that the trial judge had erred by issuing a suo motu, “directing parties to maintain the status quo without affording the parties an opportunity to address the court in respect of the said order.”
Suo motu, meaning “on its own motion,” is a legal term, approximately equivalent to the term sua sponte. For example, it is used where a government agency acts on its own cognisance, as in “the Commission took suo motu control over the matter.”
Meanwhile, after informing the court of his appeal, the counsel explained that his decision to refrain from writing the court was instigated by “the circumstances” in which they found themselves.
In a reaction to the application, Mr Abdullahi’s lawyer, Adam Oloro-age, argued that the rules of the NIC provide that “anybody applying for a stay of proceedings must come by way of writing to the court.”
“It is only when that order is refused that they can proceed to the Court of Appeal,” Mr Oloro-aje added.
In a final decision, Mr Damulak ruled that Mr Arase provide a written application that would be heard and considered before a decision is taken regarding his request for a stay of proceedings.
Trial judge transferred, case reassigned
Perhaps in a bid to employ delay tactics through the oral application before the National Industrial Court to stay proceedings, Mr Olori-aje was not served with the application when due, after securing an adjournment to file the application.
The NBET counsel had also approached the appeal court seeking relief for Justice Damulak to recuse himself from the case.
However, a few days to the resumption of the case, Justice Damulak was transferred out of NICN in Abuja although the application to the Appeal court was yet to be heard.
When this reporter asked for the reason for Mr Damulak’s transfer, the claimant’s lawyer said: “No reason was given. It is the tradition of the Federal Courts with divisions cutting across the states of the federation to train their judges. They are not under any obligation to state reasons for moving a judge from a state to the other.”
The new judge, Oyejoju Oyebiola Oyewunmi, who took over the case, on Friday, October 4 insisted that the suit could not lie fallow “while the appeal court was busy with some other dealings.”
She has adjourned the matter to October 31 and November 1 for hearing.
In a report to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in June, the ICPC said it was set to prosecute Ms Amobi, following findings that resulted from the allegations by Messrs Abdullahi and Bintube.
According to the report, the commission said Ms Amobi faltered in areas of procurement and fund approvals.