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Court to hear GTCO’s application for judge’s recusal in N13bn debt suit tomorrow

A Federal High Court in Lagos will tomorrow, October 18, 2022  hear an application filed by lawyers of Guaranty Trust Holding Company(GTCO) in a N13 billion debt dispute asking the trial judge, Justice Abimbola Awogboro to recuse herself as the plaintiffs have lost confidence in her ability to adjudicate on the case.

The suit, marked FHC/L/CS/2147/19, was filed by the plaintiffs/applicants – GTCO and Gbenga Akinde-Peters Receiver/Manager of Stallion Nigeria Limited (In Receivership), through their counsel Temilolu Adamolekun.

Five other firms, THP Limited, The Honda Place Limited, Connoiseur Investment Limited, Premium Seafoods Limited and Onward Fisheries Nigeria Limited are the defendants/respondents, while KPMG Advisory Services (KPMG) is a respondent.

GTCO, through Mr. Temilolu Adamolekun, instituted the suit against T.H.P Limited and the four others in 2019 over the N13 billion allegedly owed by Stallion Nigeria Limited.

Through Adamolekun, the bank alluded to loss of faith in the judge, and prayed her to return the case file to the administrative judge for re-assignment to another judge.

Adamolekun’s application praying the judge to hands off the matter, followed the resumption of hearing on July 20, 2022.

The prayers, as contained in his motion on notice, are, among others, “An order that the Hon. Justice Awogboro do recuse/disqualify himself from further adjudicating over this matter, the applicant having lost confidence on the impartiality of His Lordship to determine this case.”

At the resumed proceedings on September 21, Adamolekun informed the court that there was a pending application for recusal before the court.

The court, however, stated that what was pending before the court was the application for stay of proceedings.

Adamolekun contended that the circumstances of the case had changed, asking that in the circumstance of a pending Application for recusal, same takes precedence.

Counsel to the defendant THP Limited Uchenna Njoku on the other hand, stated that the matter was adjourned for the hearing of their application dated 26th June, 2022. He added that there was no law that provides that proceedings should be altered because of the introduction of an application for a judge to recuse himself.

But Adamolekun responded by saying that there was no law or rule of any court that supercedes the constitutional principle of fair hearing, which the plaintiffs are entitled to. He added that an application for a judge to recuse himself is rooted in the principle of fair hearing. Therefore, where the plaintiffs do not have faith in the court to hear and determine its case anymore, it is an issue having to do with fair hearing.

He further stated that it was surprising that the court even wanted to go ahead to hear the application for recusal despite the claim of bias against the court. He argued that most judges would not bother to hear the application, but, would immediately remit the case file back to the admin judge for reassignment, upon being confronted with such Application.

Justice Abimbola Awogboro, however, said the ffidavit in support of the application was filled with false facts and for that reason, the deponent should be present in court.

Adamolekun objected to that position as it appeared defence counsel also shared the view that the deponent ought to appear in court. Mr. Adamolekun said the deponent stated in the affidavit that he was informed of the facts by counsel that was present in court on the day of the last proceeding.

He also said that in law, the only reason a deponent would be called upon to give evidence physically is where there are conflicting facts in the affidavits of the parties and in which case, not the deponent of one party would be made to appear, but the deponent of the two conflicting affidavits i.e. from both parties and not a one-sided affair.

The court then ordered that a further affidavit should to disclose the source her information by the deponent of the affidavit in support of the Application for recusal.

Njoku also stated that the court should order that the deponent of the further affidavit should be present in court on the next adjourned date.

Mr Adamolekun objected on the grounds that the defendants’ counsel could not be in control of the court in the circumstance that the court already stated what should be done i.e to depose to an affidavit and not to appear in court.

In the circumstances, the matter was adjourned to the 18th of October, 2022 for Hearing of the Application for recusal.

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