How Magistrates Abuse Their Office, Commercialize Litigation In Cross River Communities

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On February 8, 2019, Mrs. Scholastica Bisong paid Mr. Isiaka Adeleke N1,855,000 for a Toyota Camry, 2009 model. When the car arrived she rejected it because it was a scrap. He went to Gboko in Benue State, refurbished the car, and sold it to Mr. Bassey Nsidieti Bassey, who was the Registrar of Magistrates Court Ikom for N1.4 million at the time.

When the balance of N455,000 was not forthcoming Mrs. Bisong arrested Mr. Isiaka, and he was charged to court. In suit No. IKM/1/2020, brought before His Worship, Solomon Ikongshul on Monday, 28 September 2020, judgment went in her favor. Mr. Isiaka was instructed to pay the N455,000 and that N200,000 be paid as damages for breaching the contract, while N50,000 is the cost of action.

The Court further directed that the sum amounting to N705,000 should be paid in three installments: N235,000 per month, from October 2020 to December 2020.

 

After the execution of the judgment was overdue, on Monday, 22 March 2021, Mr. Isiaka (judgment debtor) filed a motion praying for an order for installment payment of the judgment sum of N705,000 only, in equal installments of N15,000 monthly. And an order for a stay of execution in KM/1/2020.

 

Presided by His Worship, S. O. Oji the court ordered the applicant to comply with the earlier judgment in suit No. IKM/1/2020 and pay the entire sum of N705,000.

Magistrate Bassey Nsidieti Bassey.

 

The judgment debtor (Mr. Isiaka) received protection from Magistrate Bassey Nsidieti Bassey until an investigation by this reporter in 2021 exposed his nefarious activities. He was transferred on the 26th of February 2022, but he fought the transfer for two months before eventually yielding in May.

 

After the transfer of Magistrate Bassey whose villainous activities precede him, Mrs. Bisong had to pass through three lawyers and spent N380,000 to recover her money. Eventually, Isiaka paid N510,000 as of November 2023 and pleaded that the senior citizen write off the N195,000 balance left, and she accepted.

Mrs. Bisong’s journey to recover her balance has left a bitter-sweet taste in her but doesn’t kill her trust in the court of law. “I feel bad, the society is corrupt, if Bassey had not left Ikom I would have gotten nothing. I still have faith in the judiciary no matter how bad it is,” she told TheInvestigator.

 

In May 2023, after Magistrate Bassey left Ikom, Magistrate Egbai Oja Michael resumed as the Administrative Chief Magistrate. Four months into his resumption, an investigation by TheInvestigator showed that Magistrate Egbai flagrantly abused his office.

Magistrate Egbai upon resumption directed the Registrar, Mrs. Anne Asinya to always get his permission before carrying out directives from other Magistrates else, no action should be taken. The Registrar obeyed for fear of intimidation even if that is not part of her responsibility as outlined in Part 3, section 16 (duties of the Registrar) of the Cross River State Magistrates’ Courts Law.

 

Because the Registrar refused further instructions from Magistrate Egbai to move an industrial sewing machine and a set of executive chairs due for auction to a safe place for him to convey home and work out the paperwork to cover the trail, she was queried by him.

His query to the Registrar.

 

Previously, Magistrate Egbai had directed the Bailiff to take some items to his home, some of the items were due for auction. For one, the case was ongoing but the Administrative Chief Magistrate had decided its fate.

 

The item for which litigation was ongoing is a brand new Parson generator set in suit no. IKM/RTM68/2020. Others are a family-size foam in suit IKM/MISC26/2023, cooking pots in suit IKM/MISC89/2022, and some doors, windows, blinds, and buckets.

 

Her response to the query was exclusively obtained by TheInvestigator and contains more damning details of how far he has abused his office.

Commercialized Litigation

 

The Administrative Chief Magistrate of Ikom Magistrates Court sent four men to prison demanding N100,000 from each to have their bail conditions reviewed.

 

Ntufam Fabian Mkpa Etor, Fred Etor Mbeku, Roland Asu Mbeku, and Mbeku Etor spent a week at the Ikom Correctional Centre before jointly paying N200,000 to secure their freedom. Magistrate Egbai used the powers of his office to coerce two staff to implicate the four of them, no investigation was done by the Police, they were never invited, and no statement of theirs was taken, but they were remanded.

It all began when they were served with a motion on notice for committal to prison, in MISC/104/2023, between them and Mr. David Etta Ekuri. The case was slated to come up on the 31st of July 2023, *Freedom Ekpo was present in court and he spoke to TheInvestigator.

 

Ekpo said, “Unfortunately, when they appeared in court a new charge was proffered against them, they were arraigned without prior information of being charged on a four-count charge, and no charge sheet was given to them.”

 

Barrister Kelvin Ogar, their lawyer petitioned Magistrate Egbai for misconduct to the State Chief Judge and Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission on the 12th September 2023, he cried for help.

Magistrate Egbai Oja Michael.

 

In the petition obtained by TheInvestigator, Barrister Ogar alleged that the Chief Bailiff Mr. Francis Mbuse, and an ad-hoc staff, Friday Godwin were coerced by Magistrate Egbai to lie against his clients else he (Egbai) would ensure the Chief Bailiff who is almost due for retirement is transferred out while the ad-hoc staff won’t be pushed for permanent employment.

In his petition, TheInvestigator confirmed that Ntufam Fabian Mkpa Etor, Fred Etor Mbeku, Roland Asu Mbeku, and Mbeku Etor’s rights to a fair hearing were violated by not allowing due process take place.

Barrister Ogar wrote “I applied to the Magistrate to review their bail terms, but he said he was going to take the ruling in chambers; I met him in chambers and he told me that each defendant has to bring the sum of N100,000 before he would release them. Our clients had to pay N200,000 to the Magistrate for them to have their bail term reviewed.”

 

He further alleged that “As if that was not enough, I found out that the Chief Magistrate compelled the Chief Bailiff Mr. Francis Mbuse to tear his shirt as evidence of his assault which Mbuse reluctantly did when Magistrate Egbai threatened to cause his transfer out of Ikom before his retirement which act prompted IKM128C/2023.

He also compelled the ad-hoc staff, Friday Godwin, to give false evidence in the open Court against the defendants, else he will not make an effort to have him employed as he has a hand to aid his employment as a full staff; thankfully Friday had avoided him and has since been scared to mention it for fear of losing his adhoc job, but confided in me to help him out of that situation.” an allegation staff in Ikom confirmed to TheInvestigator.

 

 

In another case involving Ogar’s clients in charge No: IK/230/C/2022, the 3rd Defendant, Elijah Effiong was not in court due to ill health, the court refused to listen to the explanation of his lawyer, the Chief Magistrate ordered the surety who was in court to explain the whereabouts of the absent defendant.

The surety did and promised to make efforts to produce the defendant in the next session, Magistrate Egbai being not satisfied ordered that the surety be arrested and remanded at police custody for 14 days unless the sum of N500,000 is paid as forfeiture before he could be released on bail. He was released when Barrister Ogar out of frustration approached the High Court in Etung.

 

In another incident on the “22nd of August 2023, while in court as a lawyer, my phone mistakenly rang court, the Chief Magistrate ordered that N2,000 should be paid, I did and was not receipted and so many other terrible and nefarious issues,” Ogar said.

Magistrate Abam Ibiang Ikpi.

 

TheInvestigator learned that following the protest, twenty days later Magistrate Abam was shipped out to Obudu to extend coverage to Obanliku. Barrister Okpan Ozinko told this reporter over the phone that “the Chief Judge’s intervention and heard the cry of the people”.

 

*Joseph Adam, a victim of Magistrate Abam’s scheme told TheInvestigator that for what he knew nothing about just because there was a quest to make money at all cost he was held in custody.

According to him, “I won’t go into details so that he won’t know me and make my life unbearable because he can. There was no investigation, I was just sent to prison and told I needed to pay about N200,000 to be free, and the bail condition was too high. Because of the condition of things and as the breadwinner I had to pay something close to N100,000 before I was released”.

 

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request was made by TheInvestigator to the Chief Registrar, Cross River State Judicial Headquarters Calabar, dated 31st January 2024 with the reference number TI/JUD/FOI/001/JUDHQ01.

Two months after the 7-day window provided by the FOI Act of 2011 to respond after receiving the request elapsed, no reply has been given by the acting Chief Registrar.

 

Note: the names starred (*) were changed to protect the person’s identity for fear of victimization.

 

– This report was published with support from Civic Media Lab (CML).

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