Muyideen V. Nba & Anor (2021)
LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report
EJEMBI EKO, J.S.C.
The appellant, a legal practitioner, was tried before the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) and found guilty of infamous conduct. The LPDC thereafter, on 21st March, 2018, issued the following direction:
(i) That the 3 counts in the complaint are found proved against the respondent, Olayori Muyideen, Esq.
(ii) That you, Olayori Muyideen, is found guilty of infamous conduct in a professional sense punishable under Section 12(1)(ii) of the Legal Practitioners Act (Revised) as charged in all the 3 counts of the Complaint. We accordingly DIRECT THE CHIEF REGISTRAR OF THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA as follows:
(iii) The name of the respondent Olayori Muyideen shall forthwith be STRUCK OFF the Roll of Legal Practitioners kept at the Supreme Court of Nigeria and shall cease from the date of this DIRECTION from carrying on the trade or business of a Legal Practitioner accordingly he is not to parade himself or allow himself to be paraded as a Legal Practitioner and he is not to engage in or participate in the practice of law in any manner or form forthwith.
(iv) We further direct as it is within our powers to do that the respondent within 30 days from the date of this Order i.e. today the 21st day of March 2018 refund or return to the petitioner Madam Elizabeth Abiola Gbolade of No. 5 Akhimien Street, Ijegun Alimosho Lagos the sum of N1,129,500.00 (One Million, One Hundred and Twenty-Nine Thousand, Five Hundred Naira) only through the complainant in this matter.
The CHIEF REGISTRAR OF THE SUPREME COURT is hereby DIRECTED to effect the above orders forthwith. We further order that NOTICE of this DIRECTION be immediately brought to the attention of the respondent by service on him personally or at his last known address (the presence of the respondent at the proceeding of this Committee where this DIRECTION is read shall be deemed to be sufficient personal service) and by publication in any edition of the PUNCH Newspaper and by publication in the Federal Gazette as required by law. Copies of this Direction must also be served on the President of the Nigerian Bar Association who will take steps to notify the General Council of the Bar, National Executive Committee and other organs of the NBA with the Direction of this Committee.
We also Direct that the entire judgment encompassing this Direction shall be brought to the attention of their lordships, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of Court of Appeal, the Honourable Chief Judges of the High Court of Lagos State, Federal High Court and High Court of States of the Federation, Heads of all other Courts in the FCT and in Nigeria, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the entire Attorneys General of the remaining 36 States of the Federation. The order shall also be served on the Inspector-General of Police, the Commissioner of Police of Lagos State and the respective Commissioners of Police in all the States of the Federation.
Dated at Abuja this 21st Day of March, 2018
Joseph Bodunrin Daudu, SAN
Chairman, Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee
Aggrieved by the Direction, the appellant has appealed. The appeal is predicated on two issues for its determination, to wit-
- Whether having regard to the variations in the composition of the Committee at various times and stages of the proceedings, the Direction dated 21st day of March, 2018 given against the appellant by the Hon. Trial Committee were not done in utter breach of the appellant’s rights to fair-hearing; and thus, a nullity. (Distilled from grounds 4 & 5)
- Whether the 2nd respondent was not wrong for not properly considering the relevant material fact and evidence placed before it in reaching the conclusion that the appellant is guilty of infamous conduct in a professional sense and consequently giving its direction against the appellant. (Grounds 1 & 2).
The facts germane for the determination of issue 1 are found ex facie pages 76, 80, 89 and 153 of the record. The PW1 commenced and concluded his evidence on 14th September, 2017 (at pages 76 & 77) before the Panel comprising J. B. Daudu, SAN – Chairman and four other members, namely: Hon. Justice Abdu Aboki, PJCA; Hon. Justice Marshall Umokoro, CJ Delta State, Nella Andem Rabana, SAN and Hon. Ahmed Mustapha
At the resumed hearing on 31st October, 2017 (pages 80 & 81) the panel that heard the evidence of the PW2 was made up of J.B. Daudu, SAN – Chairman, and 7 other members, that is, Hon. Justice Abdu Aboki, PJCA, Hon. Justice Nasiru Ajana CJ, Kogi State, Hon. Justice Marshall Mukoro, CJ, Delta State; E. C. Ukala SAN; Nella Andem Rabana, SAN; Tijjani Inuwa-Dutse, mni and Ahmed Mustapha Goniri, A.-G., Yobe State. The underlined, that is: Hon. Justice Nasiru Ajana, CJ, Kogi State; E. C. Ukala, SAN and Tijjani Inuwa-Dutse, mni, did not hear the PW1 testify on 14th September, 2017.
On the adjourned date, 6th December, 2017, the LPDC convened and heard the evidence of the DW1 (pages 89 – 91), the case of the complainant having been concluded and closed earlier on 31st October, 2017. The panel on the said 6th December, 2017 that heard the testimony of the DW1, the sole defence witness comprised – J.B. Daudu, SAN – Chairman, and 5 other members, that is; Hon. Justice Abdu Aboki, PJCA, Hon. Justice Nasiru Ajana, CJ, Kogi State; E.C. Ukala, SAN; Tijjani Inuwa-Dutse, mni and Hon. Ahmed Mustapha Goniri, A.-G., Yobe State. On the said 6th December, 2017 (at page 91) parties were directed to file written addresses and the matter was adjourned to 30th January, 2018 for adoption of the addresses.
On the said 30th January, 2018, the LPDC reconvened (at pages 131 – 132) with the panel comprising J. B. Daudu, SAN, Chairman, and four other members namely: Hon. Justice Nasiru Ajana, CJ, Kogi State; E.C. Ukala, SAN; Nella Andem Rabana, SAN and Oluseun Abimbola, A.G. Oyo State (the new entrant who did not hear any witness testify). Apart from some interlocutory preliminaries (for regularisation of processes), nothing serious took place on the said 30th January, 2018. A further adjournment was fixed for 28th February, 2018.
Six members of the panel comprising J.B. Daudu, SAN – Chairman, and five others i.e. Hon. Justice Abdu Aboki, PJCA, Hon. Justice Marshall Mukoro, CJ, Delta State; E. C. Ukala, SAN; Tijjani Inuwa-Dutse, mni; and Hon. Oluseun Abimbola, A.-G., Oyo, State reconvened on the said 28th February, 2018 and took the written addresses of the parties as the final submission of each party’s case. See page 153 of the record. Thereafter, the Committee adjourned thus:
“our final Direction will be delivered on 21st March, 2018”.
Hon. Oluseun Abimbola; A.-G., Oyo State did not hear any witness testify. Hon. Justice Marshall Umokoro, CJ Delta State and Nella Andem Rabana, SAN did not hear the DW1 testify.
On Wednesday, 21st March, 2018 the LPDC reconvened and delivered its decision wherein it made the Direction that the appellant was aggrieved with. The alleged offensive Direction is reproduced at pages 181-192. It is duly certified that pages 180 – 192 of the record was the authentic record of the LPDC as the proceedings of the said date. Nine members of the LPDC were said to be those who took the decision reproduced at pages 181 – 192. They are J. B. Daudu, SAN – Chairman; and 8 others namely: Hon. Justice Abdu Aboki, PJCA; Hon. Justice Nasiru Ajana, CJ, Kogi State; Hon. Justice Marshall Mukoro, CJ, Delta State, Yusuf Ali, SAN; E. C. Ukala, SAN, Nella Andem-Rabana, SAN; , Tijjani Inuwa-Dutse, mni and Ahmed Goniri, A.-G., Yobe State. Mr. Yusuf Ali, SAN was appearing for the first time on the panel. He is shown to be participating in the decision without hearing any witness testify.
My Lords, I agree with the appellant that there is no doubt that the membership committee (apart from the 3 – J. B. Daudu, SAN – Chairman; E.C. Ukala, SAN and Tijjani Inuwa-Dutse, mni who were consistent) was at various times differently constituted at all material stages of the proceedings leading up to their final decision and Direction. I also agree with the appellant that the compositions of the Committee from the first day through the diverse dates PW1, PW2 and DW1 testified, the date of final addresses and the day its decision/Direction was given were oscillatory and different.
In Dr. Osaretin George 12 Ezebuwa v. NBA & Anor. SC.334/2019 of 18th June, 2021, I expressed the opinion that “deciding without hearing” is an aspect of a denial of fair hearing.
Fair hearing, as a fundamental procedure, is the sine qua non in all proceedings before judicial or quasi-judicial bodies like the LPDC: Ekpeto v. Wanogho (2004) 18 NWLR (Pt. 905) 394.
The nature of proceedings at the LPDC is quasi-criminal, and is quasi-judicial: LPDC v. Gani Fawehinmi (1985) 2 NWLR (Pt. 7) 300; Okike v. LPDC (2005) 15 NWLR (Pt. 949) 471. Accordingly, absence of fair hearing vitiates the proceedings of the LPDC, a quasi-judicial body, no matter how well the decision may have been written: Atano v. A.-G., Bendel State (1988) 2 NWLR (Pt. 75) 201; Otwiwa v. Kwaseko 2 WACA 230; Egba N. A. v. Adeyanju (1936) NLR 77; Damoan v. Talbi 12 WACA 167; Runka v. Katsina N.A. 13 WACA 98.
It is now firmly established in our jurisprudence, or administrative law, that where a Court or judicial body is differently consisted during the hearing or on the various occasions when it met, or where one member who did not hear evidence (either the whole or part of the total evidence) took part in arriving at the decision; the effect on the proceedings is to render them null and void: Adeigbe & Anor v. Kusimo & Ors (1965) LPELR-25226(SC); Taiwah III v. Egwudzi 2 WACA 52. This Court has been adopting and following this principle: that it amounts to denial of fair hearing for the judex or a member of a panel of quasi-judicial body to participate in rendering a decision without hearing either the whole evidence or part thereof, as can be seen from Nwalutu v. LPDC (2019) All FWLR (Pt. 997) 68 at 95, Reported as Nwalutu v. NBA (2019) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1673) 174; Ubwa v. Tiv Traditional Council Ors. (2004) 11 NWLR (Pt. 884) 427; Sokoto State Government v. Kamdex (Nig.) Ltd. (2007) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1034) 466. These compelling stare decisis does not warrant my departure therefrom on similar facts as in the instant appeal, particularly that it was further reiterated in Kunle Kalejaiye v. LPDC (2019) LPELR-47035(SC), (2019) 8 NWLR (Pt.1674) 365. The appeal on this issue, and on the well established principle in the aforementioned cases, is allowed. I also followed those precedents in SC.334/2019 and SC.469/2017 delivered on 18th June, 2021.
The decision, culminating in the Direction of 21st March, 2018, as it affects the appellant is hereby set aside in its entirety. The matter is hereby remitted for hearing de novo by a panel differently constituted.