By Steve Oni, Ilorin
A Kwara State High Court judge, Justice Sikiru Oyinloye, has excused himself from a contempt application filed by Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, against an online publisher, Omoyele Sowore and his company, Sahara Reporters.
At the resumed hearing of the matter on Thursday, Oyinloye also ordered a halt to further proceedings in a substantive suit where Sowore and his company are seeking to set aside a N4 billion judgment debt earlier issued against them by him ( Oyinloye) for publishing libelous articles against Saraki pending the final determination of the contempt allegation.
Counsel to Saraki, Babatunde Olomu, had sought to move the application for contempt proceedings against Sowore but Justice Oyinloye asked him not to do so, on the ground that the matter affected the integrity of his court.
He said: “I do not want to be a judge in what seems to be my own case; the application is hereby directed to be taken to the Registry pronto. I had deliberately refused to read the application since it was brought to my office.”
In a short ruling thereafter, the court directed Saraki to go back to the High Court Registry and start a fresh process for the assigning of the case by the Chief Judge of the state.
Oyinloye also directed the Registrar of his own court to initiate the transfer of the case file to the main Registry and undertake a daily follow-up of the file until the matter is assigned to a new judge.
The judge later gave the two parties a new date of November 24, 2017 when they are to appear before him to give a progress report on the contempt proceedings.
Earlier during the session, the court had fined Sahara Reporters and Sowore the sum of N20, 000 for discontinuing their motion on notice, dated August 18, 2017, holding that moves taken to withdraw the application would necessarily truncate the business of the court.
Counsel to the defendants/applicants, Mr. Stanley Imhanruor had moved the motion for the discontinuance and while Olomu would not object to the motion he however asked for N1m cost to augment the expenses incurred by the claimant/respondent’s legal team.
It was the decision to hands off the contempt aspect of the case that made Olomu to ask orally that further proceedings with two other applications filed by the defendants/applicants be halted in line with established legal position and rules of proceedings.
However, Imhanruor disagreed, arguing that granting an oral application was not allowed in cases like that.
He also argued that since contempt proceedings are quasi criminal in nature, the presiding court should assume the position of functus officio and not make pronouncement on the matter.
In his ruling, the third in the day on the matter, Justice Oyinloye dismissed the position of Imhanruor, and cited several authorities to back up Olomu’s argument that once a contempt application has been filed in a proceeding, all other aspects of the proceeding must cease until the determination of the contempt application.
Saraki had initiated the contempt proceeding following the continued publication of what he argued were offensive articles against the court by the defendants/applicants, citing the provisions of Order 47, Kwara State High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2005 which empowers the court to punish for contempt. He said the publications were on despite the earlier judgment of the court.
Speaking with newsmen after the session, Olomu said: “Since delivery of judgement on June 28, they have continued to libel our client contrary to the order of the court to stop making further libelous publication. They had abused the judge, everybody, court, desecrated entire judicial system, not only the judge but pollution of the judiciary. And we said in law, they must purge themselves of that before we proceed further.
“And that’s the position of the law. And that’s why the judge said that, since he had abused him, he can’t be the judge in his court; let contempt proceedings be heard by another judge. It is also the principle of law that while the contempt proceeding is going on, all other proceedings must stop”, he said.