Lawyers in the team ordered by the Supreme Court to pay N60 million cost over their application seeking a review of the February 13 judgment on the Bayelsa governorship election have expressed their readiness to comply with the order. A seven-member panel of the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered Afe Babalola (SAN) and Wole Olanipekun (SAN), lawyers for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and David Lyon to pay the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Governor Duoye Diri and his deputy Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo N10m each, totalling N60m.
The confirmation of the payment came amid views in some quarters that the order was merely symbolic and parties were not bound to obey them. But senior lawyers in the firm of Olanipekun and Lateef Fagbemi, and Afe Babalola who spoke on condition of anonymity said being a mandatory order of the apex court it must be complied with. A senior advocate who also appeared for APC in the matter, said the payment will be made in a few days’ time.
He said the fine was not the problem for the senior lawyers but the all-out criticism of their persons in the matter by the justices of the Supreme Court. “In these periods where the judiciary is facing all kinds of attacks, it is still people like Chiefs Afe Babalola and Wole Olanipekun who would go out and defend the judiciary. So, why would my lords do what they did?” the lawyer asked.
Reacting, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Austin Alegeh (SAN), said the fine would definitely be enforced because the lawyers would have to file proof of the payment of the fine to the court. On whether there could be further disciplinary actions from the NBA, the former president said the association is usually reluctant to be the complainant in matters such as this where none of the parties have petitioned.
“It depends on the president. He can take it up suo moto and deal with it or if the lawyers from the other side make complain, the NBA would usually set up a panel to look into that,” he said.
However, Paul Erokoro SAN drew a distinction with fines for late filing of processes such as the office of the Attorney General of the Federation having to pay lawyers to Omoyele Sowore the sum of N200,000 fine for late filing of processes, which he said is mandatory. “But in this instance, it is for the respondents to enforce. If the respondents want to enforce it, it must be paid, but if they don’t want to enforce it, that is another thing,” he said.