The Court of Appeal in Lagos on Monday came hard on a judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Mohammed Idris, for denying the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) of fair hearing in a suit on electricity tariff increment.
It held that the judge, who heard the case and restrained NERC from hiking tariff, violated the appellant’s right to fair hearing and thereby committed “a grave error.”
“The trial court accorded undue reverence and relevance to technicality. The era of technical justice is gone in our courts. Substantial justice is key,” the Court of Appeal held.
It ordered the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, to re-assign the case to a new judge for adjudication. Activist-lawyer Toluwani Adebiyi sued NERC over a planned increase in electricity tariff.
He argued that tariff could not be increased when there were constant power outages and exorbitant estimated bills.
Justice Idris made an interim order that status quo be maintained. The order, in effect, barred NERC from increasing the tariff.
But NERC, through its lawyer Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), of Punuka Attorneys and Solicitors, filed a motion on notice seeking to discharge the interim order.
Justice Idris, in his ruling, dismissed NERC’s application for being filed outside the seven days prescribed by the court’s rules.
The judge similarly dismissed NERC’s preliminary objection on the basis that it was also filed out of time.
Dissatisfied, the Commission challenged Justice Idris’ rulings at the appellate court.
Delivering judgments in the appeals on Monday, Justice Abraham Georgewill held that judge misused his powers of discretion.
The appeal court held that the judge “approbated and reprobated” when he heard NERC’s application to regularise its processes, and still set aside the appellant’s motion to discharge the interim order.
Justice Georgewill said Justice Idris relied on technicality in denying NERC of fair hearing, thereby occasioning a miscarriage of justice.