By Archibong Jeremiah
A Cross River Magistrate forcefully seized, impounded and sold a car belonging to a defendant’s friend in order to recover money owed by the defendant. The defendant in the case with suit No. IKM/RTM/12/2019, Mr. Loveday Eke had driven his friend’s car to the courthouse on May 10, 2019 when his friend’s car was seized, impounded and sold despite the car belonging to Mr. Edim Samuel Okpa.
On Wednesday, 27th March, 2019, judgment was given in Suit No. IKM/RTM/12/2019 in favor of Mrs. Florence Innocent that, Mr. Loveday Eke pay her “N400,000 being arrears of two years rent, mense profit of N16,000 per month from January 2019 until possession and N15,000 for cost of action.”
Unable to meet up with the judgment, Mr. Loveday’s properties valued at over N1.2 million, his friend’s car (Toyota Camry, 2007 model) valued at N3.4 million was auctioned to recover the sum of N463,000. This action was taken despite the landlady agreeing to the pleas of the defendant by reducing the amount demanded to N200,000. Despite the agreement the Magistrate still auctioned off Mr. Loveday’s properties, seized, impounded and sold Mr. Loveday’s friend’s car.
Essentially, the action was taken to recover a balance of N50,000 from Mr. Loveday. People familiar with the nefarious activities of Magistrate Bassey Nsidieti Bassey, Registrar of Ikom Magistrate’s Court told our correspondent in anonymity that this was his usual practice.
Magistrate Bassey who led the gang to forcefully takeover and sell the car belonging to the budding businessman’s friend, Mr. Edim is shielding another judgment debtor from paying Mrs. Scholastica Bisong N725,000.
Mrs. Scholastica got a judgement in her favor against one Mr. Isiaka Adeleke but couldn’t enforce it because the defendant is the mechanic of the corrupt Court official, Magistrate Bassey.
In a attempt to radicle the Court, Mr. Isiaka filed a motion asking that he be permitted to service his judgment debt of N725,000 by N15,000 every month.
In 2018, the Registrar of Ikom Magistrate’s Court was made a Magistrate, since then, he has played the role of a Magistrate (without a Court) and a Registrar, side-by-side. There are three Magistrate Courts in Ikom and three Magistrate manning them.
Selective Judgment Enforcement
“I couldn’t pay my rent and my landlady gave me quiet notice on a certain weekend that I was not at home, I was called that Court Administrative staff were in my house, I rushed back home and was told they have an order to bring my properties to Court.” Mr. Loveday Eke narrates his ordeal to CrossRiverWatch.
He ran to plead with Magistrate but he refused to call his men off. While in the Court pleading for the release of his friend’s car just impounded, his home was forcefully entered and swept clean of all valuable.
Everything in his well furnished 3 bedroom apartment valued at over N1.2 million was swept away leaving him with just the trouser, shirt and footwear he was putting on. “I ran to a friend and borrowed his car to run around, I raised N150,000 and took to him (Bassey), he directed I hand it over to the lawyer incharge of the property and I did, he gave me receipt for the N150,000 I paid, base on the agreement between me and my landlady.” He revealed.
Recounting how the Registrar deliberately intended to milk him, the young businessman disclosed that: “He said the money I have to pay is about N380,000 and must be in cash, when paying to my landlady, if she says her money is N200,000 the Court keeps the balance. I went there about a week later, he threatened me never to come there again else he will arrest me, my friend’s car I drove there was impounded, two phones and other items in it were seized.”
The car and other properties valued at over N4.5 million was auctioned because he questioned why he is to balance N230,000 instead of N50,000. The car was sold to a staff of Eco Bank, Jackson and he was arrested, the Registrar and his gang sold the car to someone else from Cameroon and instructed to move the car at once.
“I tracked the car to Cameroon, the person in possession of the car was arrested. Monday morning on reaching there with proof of ownership, I saw a lawyer (Barrister Ateke) with Court papers defending the suspect, I was rather arrested and detained in Cameroon for two days, I spent close to N120,000 before I got my freedom. That is how the story of the car ended,” he said as tears wrinkled his eyes and he added after a pause, “I went to a lawyer outside Ikom, he was threatened severally to drop the case. I tried by petition after filing a motion in Court on 17th of May, 2019 and it never came up, when it was scheduled finally for 30th May, 2019 and 13th June, 2019, it was never heard.”
Furthermore, Mr. Loveday said: “He (Registrar Bassey) eventually confessed (to the crime) and called for a dialogue, he said he will get another car and told us that, the lawyers incharge of the property (Dennis and Mgboki) are part of the deal. He gave us a time frame to return everything but he has failed to do so.”
February 8, 2019, Mrs. Scholastica Bisong paid Mr. Isiaka Adeleke N1,855,000 for a car, Toyota Camry, 2009 model. “When he brought the car I rejected it because it was scrab. He went to Gboko and refurbished the car, sold it to the Registrar of Magistrate’s Court Ikom, Bassey Nsidieti Bassey at N1.4 million and was paid to me in instalment.” She told CrossRiverWatch.
“When the balance was not forthcoming I arrested him (Isiaka),” she narrated adding that “after several failed promises, I took Isiaka to Court.” His Worship, Solomon Ikongshul who presided over the case in suit No. IkM/1/2020 gave judgment on Monday, 28 September, 2020 in her favor.
The defendant was instructed to pay N455,000 being debt owed her from the balance of the initial sum of N1,855,000 for the purchase of the car. That N200,000 be paid as damages for breaching contract, while the sum of N50,000 as cost of action.
The Court directed that the sum amounting to N705,O00 should be paid in three installments: N235,000 per month, commencing from October, 2020 to December, 2020.
After execution of the judgment was long overdue, on Monday, 22 March, 2021, Mr. Isiaka (judgement debtor) filed a motion praying for an order for installmental payment of the judgment sum of N705,000 only, in equal installments of N15,000 monthly. And an order for stay of execution in KM/1/2020.
The Court presided by His Worship, S. O. Oji ordered the applicant (Isiaka) to comply with the earlier judgment and pay the entire sum of N705,000. According to the Court, “Going by the Judgment Order, Exhibit A, it is my view that the Motion of Applicant was intended to delay payment, therefore the entire sum herein is due and payable forthwith. Cost is awarded at N20,000.” Thus, making the total money owed Mrs. Scholastic N725,000 only.
“On Tuesday, 30 March, 2021 Registrar Bassey called me to his office that Isiaka brought N110,000, he collected it and handed over to me that by ending of April, he will pay the balance.” She told CrossRiverWatch revealing that, “When Court resumed in June after the strike, I went back to the Registrar and he demanded for N30,000 for execution, I paid.”
Weeks, months passed, no word from the Registrar and when she approached him only to be told that, “Isiaka is his (Registrar) mechanic, he repairs Barrister Ojong and Barrister Eyong car as well, so they cannot enforce the judgment, he then told Isiaka to go and bring N50,000.”
This investigation revealed that, the N30,000 the Registrar collected from her to aid enforce the judgment was transferred back (Thursday, 15 July, 2021) which confirms that, he won’t execute the judgment. The next day, Friday, Mr. Isiaka brought the N50,000 which made it N160,000 of N725,000 he owed Mrs. Scholastica in judgment.
The hope of getting justice by the two vocal victims and others who were too afraid to speak up has been dashed.
‘Play Ball Or Have It Hot And Be Transferred’
Several Magistrates confided in CrossRiverWatch that in Ikom, you either play ball with the Registrar, His Worship, Bassey Nsidieti Bassey or have it hot and be transferred. Their identity are withheld for editorial reasons.
His Worship, Magistrate XYZ said, “When judgement is given he does selective execution because of benefits and no one dare’s question him.”
“Most senior lawyers don’t like going to Magistrate’s Court Ikom because they feel Magistrates’ there take directives from him. Several lawyers and Magistrates have been given life threats not to take cases because of his interest, I was a victim.” His Worship, Magistrate QRS disclosed.
His Worship, Magistrate UVW divulged that, “He has a way of forcing other Magistrates to sign blank arrest warrant when there is no complaint to arrest whoever he likes, then you sort out issues with him, pay him and no matter comes up in the Court, sometimes people are detained to get them to comply, I was a victim of this.”
On his part, His Worship, Magistrate ABC said: “We might be forced to blank warrants and no case comes up from them, if you don’t sign be prepared to have it hot and be transferred.”
His Worship, Magistrate LMN aforesaid, “When he became a Magistrate he was supposed to have been assigned a Court where he will preside over cases, but I don’t know if he is the one or the authorities that has refused to assign a Court to him, he has remained functioning as a Registrar that he was.
“If a Magistrate is to work as a Registrar it should be in a higher Court, not in the same Magistrate Court, maybe he is sent to a High Court, Appeal Court, Supreme Court but definitely, it is an abnormally for a Magistrate to remain functioning as a Registrar in a Magistrate Court.”
‘He’s A Man Of gods [sic] And Guts’
A source within Ikom Magistracy who spoke to CrossRiverWatch under anonymity described the Registrar, His Worship, Bassey Nsidieti Bassey as “a man of gods and guts.”
Recalling a past incident, he said: “Some years ago there was a serious case involving him, the key witness who was to testify after failed efforts to bribe him off appearing, on the adjourned day, he was swollen that only his eyes could move, after a while he died and that closed the case.
“He (Registrar) has broken homes because of eros, I know of two married men he sent to prison just to force their wives to bed, in this Ikom. Normally if you have judgement and you’re meeting the Registrar to execute and he ask you to pay, the amount you paid will be added for you, but that money even if he recovers it from that person, he doesn’t give to you, whatever he recovers he still take commission from you.”
He went on to disclose that: “He does not follow due process in auctioning, go to his house in Ikom and Calabar, you will see pile of properties. He selects the ones he likes, auction the rest and gives you judgment credit of peanut, you will regret taking matter to Court. One Head Teacher’s money was eaten by that man (the Registrar), until a letter was written through the High Court before he accepted paying that money, till date he has not paid all.”
On more shady dealings, the insider said: “If you get the schedule Cross River State gives for filing charges, you prepare two documents, take one to Effraya (Etung) to file, same document bring to Ikom, that one will be N1,000 or N2,000, his own will be about N6,000 or N7,000, he does not issue receipt and nobody is asking him questions, his a lord on his own.
“He decide on the Magistrate who seats or transferred, that is why petitions against him is buried. The Loveday issue is one I wept, he has settled with his landlady and you still auctioned his properties and a friend’s car. In the case of Madam Scholastica, he has refused to execute the judgment but called for installmental payment, that doesn’t satisfy the judgment and Isiaka sale cars, he owns a building here in Ikom.”
The source who for fear of attack who doesn’t want to be mentioned in print further revealed to this newspaper that he (the Magistrate) is connected up to the judiciary headquarters in Calabar, which is why petitions against him can be trashed without interfacing with the petitioner, “as it happened in the case of Mr. Loveday who petitioned twice,” he said.
There Are Procedures For Disciplining Magistrates, Complain To State Judicial Service Commission – Mba Ukweni, SAN
When contacted on phone about what should be done in the circumstance of Mr. Loveday and Mrs. Scholastica, Mba Ukweni, SAN advised that “there is a procedure for disciplining Magistrates, the person should make a complain to the State Judicial Service Commission.”
On the fact that Mr. Loveday had filed a motion against the Registrar that never saw daylight, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mba maintained, “that would be a gross misconduct on the part of the Magistrate, if it is so he should take the appropriate procedure for the disciplining of the Magistrate.
“I am not preview to the details of what is there, I cannot also start making firm statement if there is a petition. If there is a petition, it is to allow the petition go through the its due process, the whole hawk of the complain made, it would be too bad for a Magistrate to do so.” He said.
He went further to posit that, as regard him being a Magistrate and a Registrar in a Magistrate’s Court, “transfer of service is normal, but what should worry us is not transfer of service but the conduct … There were no Court provided, it is not the fault of the Magistrate that no Court, they are staff of the judiciary, it is where you send them to, that is where they will work.”
Judiciary Headquarters, NBA Not Aware
The Chief Registrar, Judiciary Headquarters Calabar, Edem Okokon when contacted denied knowledge of abuse of office in Ikom Magistracy.
He told CrossRiverWatch that: “I may not have a clear idea on it, maybe after the opening of the legal year I will have to do some investigation and get back to you.”
On his part, Ntem Ikpi, Chairman NBA Ikom Zone (Yakurr, Obubra, Etung, Ikom, Boki and Abi) told this reporter that: “We had an emergency meeting yesterday, it was expected at that meeting if there is anything like that its for us to be informed. I’ll find out.”
Nkonang Neji, NBA Chairman, Ikom branch confirmed to CrossRiverWatch that Bassey arrived at Ikom as a Registrar and was converted to Magistrate while serving in Ikom.
According to him, “He has been there as a Magistrate and a Registrar, but not sitting as a Court. There are issues that conflict, a warrant is signed by him and it conflicts with the Magistrate that is presiding. He says he has power to sign warrants which is true, as a Magistrate but if you sign a warrant, send it to the Police to investigate and charge to Court, they should charge to a court that is sitting.”
On allegations of abuse of office, he said, “I have not heard he has a penchant for going after people’s wives. I was not copied in those petitions, I would have confronted him, nobody in all the petitions have ever copied me as Chairman of the Bar.”
He complained about poor infrastructure and funding for the judiciary in Ikom and called for help.
This investigation was supported by Civic Media Lab under its Investigative Reporting Project.