A judge of the Lagos Division of the Lagos State High Court Friday ordered journalists out of the courtroom during the hearing of a suit filed against the Lagos State Government and five others by the Incorporated Trustees, Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria, otherwise known as Private Sector Participation operators of wastes.
Justice Taofiquat Oyekan-Abdullahi, sitting at the Tafawa Balewa Square complex of the court, told the reporters to leave quietly or be thrown out of the court room.
The PSP operators had filed the suit seeking to stop the Lagos State Government from relieving them of their job of managing domestic wastes in the state.
They claimed that the state government had perfected plans to take their job and give it to a foreign company, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions Limited.
Joined with the Lagos State Government as respondents in the suit are both its Commissioner for Environment and Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice.
Others are Visionscape Group, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions Limited and ABC Sanitation Solutions Limited.
During the Friday hearing, Mrs. Oyekan-Abdullahi ordered the reporters who were from The PUNCH, The Guardian, and Vanguard newspapers out of her courtroom.
The judge sternly asked the journalists to identify themselves among the people sitting in the gallery and walk out of her courtroom to save themselves from being “fished out and embarrassed” by the policeman attached to the court.
The judge gave the directive following a complaint by counsel to the state government, S.A. Quadri, that journalists were always in court to cover proceedings in the case.
Mr. Quadri alleged that “the journalists were being sponsored to cover the case by the PSP operators.”
According to him, “the PSP operators, after filing a suit against the government in court, were still using the press to fight the state.”
Mr. Quadri said he “appreciated the path that this honourable court wants the parties to go” but expressed concern that “our learned friend have employed the press.”
It was while Mr. Quadri was expressing this concern that Justice Oyekan-Abdullahi turned to the people sitting in the gallery and asked, “are there journalists here?”
She advised the journalists to identify themselves and “honourably” go out before they would be fished out and embarrassed.
The journalists in the courtroom stood up walked out immediately.
In an application for interlocutory injunction filed through their lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, the PSP operators are praying the court to restrain the Lagos State Government and its agents from terminating their right to collect, dispose and manage domestic solid wastes in all areas of Lagos.
They want the court to stop the state from taking over the role of managing solid wastes in the state from them and giving it to a foreign company, Visionscape Group, which is operating in partnership with two Nigerian companies – Visionscape Sanitation Solutions Limited and ABC Solutions Limited.
But all the defendants have opposed the suit and urged the court to dismiss it.
Earlier in the proceedings, the judge had called for calm among the lawyers after realising how tempers were flaring in the course of arguments.
While standing down the matter down so that the lawyers could calm down, the judge noted that the case was sensitive as it bordered on the means of livelihood of people, who were at the risk of not being able to feed their families.
“What we’re all trying to do is strike a balance and ensure that nobody has problem in the course of this case,” Mrs. Oyekan-Abdullahi said, adding that, “there’s effort on the part of the state to do justice. I don’t want you to think that it is only through legal means that we can solve this case.”
The claimants’ counsel, David Fadile, and counsel for Visionscape Group, Francis Akinlotan, had locked horns in arguments as to the legality of filing a further counter-affidavit.
Mr. Akinlotan had told the judge that he had an application seeking the leave of the court to file a further counter-affidavit to enable him respond to some new issues raised by the claimants’ counsel in his further affidavit.
But Mr. Fadile objected, describing Mr. Akinlotan’s application as “completely strange.”
“You cannot seek the leave of the court to do what does not exist in law,” Mr. Fadile argued.
But Mr. Akinlotan insisted that his application was not strange, adding that there was a Court of Appeal authority to that effect.
Although, he could not readily cite the Court of Appeal case, he knew that Mrs. Oyekan-Abdullahi had allowed such an application in the case of Olukoya Ogungbeje and the Registered Trustees of the Nigerian Bar Association.
Responding, the judge said she remembered the case and directed the court registrars to look for the case file while she stood the matter down.