Lawyers in Enugu North District on Tuesday protested the continuation of online sittings of judges of the High Court in the district for the past two years.
Lawyers gathered at the Nsukka and Obollo-Afor high courts at 7:30 a.m. and blocked the road leading to the courts with their vehicles, while singing songs of solidarity.
Addressing journalists during the protest, Sonny Okoro, President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Nsukka Branch, flanked by Desmond Ezema, President of the Obollo-Afor Branch of the NBA and other lawyers, said they appealed to a peaceful protest to allow Enugu State Government and the public know that the normal judicial system has not been functioning in Enugu North District for more than two years.
Okoro explained that for over two years, high court judges in the district have claimed that insecurity has not allowed them to physically appear in court.
“For the past two years, High Court judges have not physically appeared in court in the Nsukka area. They resort to visual sitting from Enugu, the state capital.
“We have no problem with virtual court proceedings as it is recognized by law, but our problem is that the district high courts do not have facilities for visual proceedings.
“That is why most of the time judges use the court clerk’s mobile phone or an old computer system as a visual medium to connect the court in Nsukka and the judge sitting in Enugu.”
The NBA president noted that the same judges who fear insecurity along the Enugu-Ugwogonike-Opi Nsukka road are now ordering lawyers to take their litigants and witnesses to Enugu to appear in rented apartments so that serve as courts.
“Are lawyers, litigants and witnesses immune to the insecurity that judges avoid on the Enugu-Nsukka highway?
“This current situation has prolonged cases and denied people access to justice, as well as causing litigants to incur additional costs in traveling from Nsukka to Enugu to have their cases heard.
“We are surprised that the judges are referring to insecurity when other residents of Enugu State use the same road on a daily basis.
“We know that Governor Peter Mbah has beefed up security on that road by deploying armored tanks and many security checkpoints on that road,” he said.
Okoro further explained that the NBA had written several letters to some concerned judicial officials in the state, especially the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Raymond Ozoemena, to restore normalcy in the high courts in the district, but all to no avail.
“The NBA has written many letters to this effect to the chief judge of Enugu, and in our last letter to him in December 2023, we told him that the lawyers would resort to a protest if by January 2024 the situation did not improve.
“We urge the Enugu State Government to intervene by ensuring that normal court proceedings resume at the Enugu North Senatorial District High Courts.
“If after this protest the judges do not resume in-person court sessions, district attorneys will begin to boycott judicial proceedings,” he said.
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Speaking, Ezema, Chairman of NBA Obollo-Afor Chapter, confirmed that lawyers and litigants in the district have been facing difficulties for the past two years due to the non-physical appearance of High Court judges.
Ezema appealed to the judiciary and the Enugu State government to intervene in the matter and restore normal judicial activities in the district.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that protests were taking place simultaneously at the Nsukka and Obollo-Afor high courts.