The Thursday, October 24, proceedings in the trial of musician Naira Marley for alleged credit card fraud have been abruptly cut short as a quarrel ensued among lawyers over space to sit in the small courtroom.
The trial judge, Justice Nicholas Oweibo, was forced to adjourn the case till December 11 and 12, 2019 in the heat of arguments among lawyers.
Reportedly, the Federal High Court in Lagos where the trial is taking place has serious challenges over space, as the courtrooms are generally small.
The argument started when the lead prosecution for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, sought to join the proceedings, which had already been underway for nearly one hour before his arrival.
The EFCC lawyer had been in another courtroom for the case of a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Jumoke Akinjide, and others, charged with N650m fraud.
Before his arrival, two of his colleagues had been handling the case. One of the two lawyers managed to sit on the arm of a chair, while the second, who was taking notes, had to stand.
After wading through the mass of bodies standing in the court’s corridor to the entrance, Oyedepo, on getting into the crammed courtroom, realized that all the seats were occupied.
Naira Marley’s lawyer, Mr Olalekan Ojo (SAN), and his juniors sat in the front row, while other lawyers, waiting for their cases to be called, occupied the other seats alongside some litigants, including a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Maurice Iwu.
The EFCC lawyer then applied to the court to direct some of the other lawyers whose cases had yet to be called to make room for him and his colleagues.
However, other lawyers described his request as disrespectful, adding that some of the lawyers seated were older than him and had been in practice longer than he has been. Naira Marley’s lawyer, Ojo, said the request was strange, contending that it would be unfair for the judge to send out other lawyers.
Adding to what Ojo had said earlier, a senior lawyer, who said he was called to the Bar 30 years ago, also berated Oyedepo for the request. Consequently, Justice Oweibo said he was not ready to grant Oyedepo’s request.
The EFCC lawyer deemed it not fair for him to conduct his case standing, saying he had also on many occasions made room for others to do their cases by waiting outside the courtroom for them to finish.
He pointed out that while he and his colleagues had no place to sit, Ojo and his retinue of junior lawyers occupied the front row seats.
Oyedepo added that Ojo’s attack on his request was borne out “accumulated anger,” a comment the SAN was not pleased with.
Out of annoyance, Ojo, who had been cross-examining the prosecution’s first witness, applied that the case be adjourned, a request which the judge gladly granted immediately.