A drama played out at the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on Tuesday when a lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, engaged his colleague, Luke Aghanenu, in a tussle over legal representation of four companies allegedly belonging to a former first lady, Patience Jonathan.
The companies – Pluto Property and Investment Company, Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Ltd, Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Ltd and Avalon Global Property Development Ltd – pleaded guilty to laundering $15 million last September.
On Tuesday, Mr. Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, while claiming he was validly appointed to represent the companies, prayed the court to nullify the guilty plea entered by the companies on the basis that they were not given fair hearing.
Mr. Aghanenu also appeared before the judge saying he was briefed by the companies to represent them.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arraigned the companies alongside a former Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to former president, Goodluck Jonathan, Waripamo Dudafa; a lawyer, Amajuoyi Briggs; and a banker, Adedamola Bolodeoku on a 15 count charge of money laundering.
Messrs. Dudafa, Briggs, and Bolodeoku pleaded not guilty to the 15-count charge.
On Tuesday, Mr. Aghanenu filed a motion for change of counsel, praying the court to hold that he was validly appointed by the companies’ directors to represent them.
But, Mr. Ozekhome, in his counter-affidavit, said he was properly briefed by the companies to handle their case and undertake their defence in the case.
He said he was briefed by Mr. Briggs, who is the companies’ secretary.
In an affidavit in support of Mr. Ozekhome’s motion, a lawyer in his firm, Chimaobi Onuigbo, said the companies’ representatives who pleaded guilty to money laundering (Friday Davis, Agbo Baro, Dioghowori Fredrick and Taiwo Ebenezer) had earlier denied having anything to do with the companies or being directors.
According to Mr. Ozekhome, the representatives also refused to accept service of process in a suit by Mrs. Jonathan against EFCC and others pending before judge, Mohammed Idris.
Mr. Idris had directed parties to serve Mr. Briggs with the process since he was on record as the Companies’ Secretary.
Mr. Ozekhome said when Mr. Briggs was served with the process, he instructed him to defend the companies.
“Briggs then deposed to an affidavit…where he clearly stated that Chief Mike Ozekhome was instructed by the companies to undertake the defence of the 4th – 7th defendants (companies) in all legal proceedings they were involved in,” said the deponent.
The lawyer added that there was no resolution of the board or general meeting of any of the companies that authorised the change of counsel, adding that the companies through Mr. Briggs have not asked him to stop representing them.
“The attempt to appoint another legal representative by the directors is invalid, having regard to the fact that he (Briggs), vide a sworn affidavit and a letter of instruction given to Chief Ozekhome, asked him to represent the 4th – 7th defendants,” he said.
Besides, he said the judge, Mr. Kuewumi, had earlier ruled on a dispute on representation, recognising him as the authorised counsel for the companies.
“I know that the application to change counsel is targeted at impeding the administration of justice and to prevent the 4th – 7th defendants from obtaining justice before this Honourable Court.
“It will be prejudicial to the 4th – 7th defendants as well as the interest of justice in this case if the applicants are granted their prayers in the application for change of counsel,” he said.
The judge adjourned till February 14 for hearing.
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