FREEPRESS – For the last 11 years, Mrs. Okome Olanike has been constrained to keep parading the Lagos State High Court to retrieve her money, which the court admittedly received on her behalf from one of her tenants.
Till date, the court, which is deemed, ordinarily, as the last hope of the common man, has refused to release the money; not even a kobo, rather, it’s been coming up with one excuse or the other.
When Okome visited the headquarters of Punch Nigeria Limited, in Magboro, several weeks ago to narrate her ordeal, the retiree, who looked visibly exhausted by the mistreatment, said if she had known her case would turn out like this, she would not have bothered going to court, and could have resorted to pleading with her tenant, one Mrs. Stella Akinbode, to settle her rent.
It all began in 2005 when Akinbode, who occupied her four-bedroomed bungalow in Surulere, defaulted in paying her rent and Okome approached the court to prevail on the tenant to pay her rent, totalling N225,000.
At the end of the case, the presiding judge, Justice A. M. Nicol-Clay, of Court 24, General Civil Division, Igbosere, ruled in favour of the landlord.
But, before going ahead to appeal the judgement, the tenant had paid the amount owed to the office of the Chief Registrar of the High Court of Lagos State Ikeja, perhaps, in the event that if she won the appeal, she would retrieve her money and if she lost, the money would go to the landlord.
Thankfully, Okome won the case. But that is where the good news ends. Our correspondent sighted a copy of the court judgement, issued and dated Monday, December 17, 2007, signed by Mr. J. A. Fadipe, which partly read, “That the Chief Registrar of Lagos High Court is hereby ordered to release to Mrs. Nike Okome (the landlady/respondent) the sum of N225,000 only.”
But since the court ordered the payment of the money to Okome in 2007, the office of the Chief Registrar has refused to release the money to her, even after the tenant withdrew the appeal and conceded to the verdict of the High Court.
According to a copy of the bank draft raised by the tenant and sighted by our correspondent, the bank draft was issued on February 22, 2007 and a copy was acknowledged by one Mr. A. Oluwole, a personal assistant to the then Chief Registrar.
But, despite presenting these evidences to the successive Chief Registrars, they have refused to release the money to her.
Okome recalled, “When I won the case at the court, the tenant said she would appeal and the court said, yes she had a right to appeal but that she should first pay the rent to the office of the Chief Registrar, High Court of Lagos State Ikeja, so that if she loses, the money would be released to me and if she won the appeal, the money would be returned to her.
“Later, she withdrew her appeal and conceded to the High Court ruling. I then approached the court to retrieve the money, especially since the presiding judge specifically ordered the Chief Registrar to release the money to me. But, since then, I have heard all kinds of excuses. The usual excuse they gave me was that they couldn’t trace the account the money was paid into. We have done everything they asked us to do, I mean my lawyer and myself, but they have refused to give me my money. Is that fair?
“It would seem that they don’t want to pay me the money because they didn’t deny collecting the money and that is why I have to look for other ways to get my money. Now, I’m a retiree and I need all the money I can raise, but all I get from them are excuses. I have written letters and petitions to successive Chief Judges of the state and successive Chief Registrars, but all to no avail.”
Truly, according to the several documents Okome gave our correspondent, between 2010 and 2018, she had written series of letters, through her lawyer, to the office of the Chief Judge and office of the Chief Registrar, all of which were acknowledged, but there was no proof that anything was done on them till date.
For example, on March 3, 2010, she wrote through her lawyer, E. O. Ekong & Co., to the Chief Registrar and the letter was stamped and acknowledged by one Kehinde, who also signed the acknowledgement.
It partly read, “Pursuant to the order of the honourable court in RTY/4462/2005, sitting at Yaba, the defendant/appellant had paid the sum of N225,000 to your office for the plaintiff/respondent pending appeal.
“Please be informed that the defendant/appellant has withdrawn and/or abandoned the appeal, and amicably settled with the plaintiff/respondent landlady on the matter. In the light of the above, we hereby humbly apply for the release/payment of the said sum of N225,000 to the plaintiff/respondent through our office.”
When nothing was done about it, another letter was written on June 24, 2010 to the Chief Registrar and was acknowledged by one Oluwatosin, with the stamp of the Office of the Chief Registrar, but again, nothing was done.
On December 3, 2010, another letter was written to the Chief Registrar and was also acknowledged, but still nothing was done.
In fact, according to one of the documents, on January 19, 2012, the Assistant Chief Registrar, Litigation, Adeniyi H. S. wrote to the Chief Registrar on the matter, and the letter was acknowledged, but still nothing was done.
Several months after, out of sheer optimism, Okome said she got her lawyer to write to the then Chief Judge on July 2, 2012, to demand for the release of her money. The letter was received by one Abass in the Office of the Chief Judge, but still nothing was done.
Determined never to give up and understandably worried by the delay in paying her, Okome again wrote through her lawyer to the Chief Judge on May 31, 2013, detailing all that had happened. Even though the letter was acknowledged, nothing was done by the office of the Chief Judge.
The letter partly read, “The explanation always given to us by the successive Chief Registrars of the High Court, Ikeja, is that the particular account within which payment of the said sum of N225,000 was effected by the office cannot be identified from numerous accounts being operated by the office of the Chief Registrar with various banks.
“Please be further informed that the payment of the said sum of N225,000 into the office of the Chief Registrar is not disputed by that office and the case file on the matter is currently in the office of the Chief Registrar.”
Okome stressed that the refusal to pay her the money had caused her “great pains and unmitigated damages and injustice.”
“In the light of the above, we most humbly appeal to Her Ladyship and request that the Honourable Chief Judge kindly order for immediate refund of the said sum of N225,000 plus 10 per cent interest with immediate effect from December 17, 2007 to Mrs. Nike Okome,” the letter concluded. But, still nothing was done.
Having been allegedly abandoned by the last hope of the common man, the distraught retiree in a petition to Punch Nigeria Limited complained about the ill treatment she had received from the office of the Chief Registrar of Lagos State High Court. “I wonder why it has become so difficult to release my money, having been convinced by the documents I tendered that the money was paid to them,” she said.
Meanwhile, when our correspondent approached the office of the Chief Registrar in May 2018, in company with Okome, the staff at the Chief Registrar’s office demanded another letter and that all documents should be attached. They also promised that prompt action would be taken on the issue.
In fact, a senior official at the Chief Registrar’s office boasted, “I can assure you that, with the evidence that you have presented, this would be the last letter you would need to write because we are under a new dispensation, so you can rest assured that your request would be treated with promptness.”
But, as always, even though Okome’s lawyer went with the letter two days after, between May and the time of filing this report, nothing has been done and the excuse has remained that they don’t know which account the money was paid into, leaving the retiree’s fate to hang in the balance.
One of the persons who accompanied Okome to the office said, “She has tried all methods to get her money released but no success, we are hoping that if the authorities of the Lagos State judiciary see the report, they would do something.”
Also, the lawyer, Ekong O. Ekong, who had been following the case, in a brief chat with our correspondent during the week, said all the due processes had been followed, saying the excuse had always been that they didn’t know which of their accounts they paid the money into.
Okome, who said she wouldn’t give up on the matter, said, “Few weeks ago when my lawyer went there, they kept telling him to come back and since then it has been come in two weeks; come in three weeks, but now, nobody is attending to us again, and that has been the experience for the past 11 years. Please help me tell them to pay. How can the judiciary do this to a citizen for 11 years? Is it fair?”
When our correspondent approached the office of the Chief Registrar for their response to the issues raised by Okome, one of the officials, who refused to disclose his name said the Chief Registrar had not been around and that nothing could be done until her return.