By Gbenga Ogunbufunmi
The expected arraignment of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, before a Federal High Court, Lagos, over alleged N1.4 billion fraud was stalled due to the inability of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to effect service of the charge on the defendant.
The EFCC had dragged the NBA president before Justice Sule Hasaan on 10 counts charge that borders on conspiracy, unlawful conversion and criminal breach of trust.
At the resumed hearing of matter today, the EFCC lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, informed the court that all effort to serve Usoro with the charge personally failed, as he failed to keep with the promise made of visiting the Commission’s office last Friday.
Oyedepo said: “the investigator told me that when he called the defendant on phone, he pleaded that ha has some engagement and that he will come on Friday, that was December 7, but the defendant didn’t make good his promise.
“Since its fundamental to be served personally and for the proper commencement of this proceedings, I urged the court for an adjournment for any convinnenent date”.
Responding, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) who led about 14 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) to defend the NBA President on the alleged charge said: “this is a peculiar situation, I have ran through the Administration of Criminal Justice of Act (ACJA) I can’t found any section authorising or insisted on the defendant to come to the office of the prosecution to pick the charge.
“The defendant didn’t make any promise to honour the invitation. My lord will take judicial notice that the defendant is the president of NBA, meaning that he is busy as myself. The defendant was called this morning that he should come to pick his charge and he responded politely that he’s is already in court. Since he is in court and the charge is in court, my lord can direct the prosecution to serve him now, then we can take a date for arraignment”.
Responding to the submission made by Usoro’s lawyer, the prosecutor cited section 122 and 123 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) which he said compelled that service of summon on the defendant must be done by the police, court officials or other public officer.
Oyedepo told the court that the service copy was with his agency’s Director of Operations, adding that he did not have any extra copy to oblige the defendant.
After listened to both parties, Justice Hassan, while adjourning the matter till December 18, 2018, for the arraignment of the NBA president, ordered the prosecution to ensure that proper service of the charge on the defendant is done.
In the 10 counts charge, EFCC alleged the the NBA president alongside the current governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Emmanuel Udom, Uwemedimo Thomas Nwoko (still at large), Nsikan Linus Nakan, (Commissioner of Finance Akwa Ibom State) (still at large), Mfom Jacobson Udomah (Accountant General OF Akwa Ibom State) (still at large) and Margaret Thompson Ukpe (still at large) sometimes in 2015 in Nigeria, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court conspired amongst yourselves to commit an offence, to wit: Conversion of the sum of N1, 410, 000,000,000.00 (One Billion, Four Hundred and Ten Million, Naira) property of Government of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria, which sum you reasonably ought to have knows forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful act.
The defendants were also alleged to have between August 25, December 2, 2015 and March 14, 2016, converted the said N1.410 billion, belonging to the Akwa-Ibom State, to their personal used.
The act which the EFCC claimed to be contrary to 18(b) and 15(2) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 201] as amended and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act