There was a hot exchange of words today, as the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the Special Presidential Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPPRPP) fight in the open court over who has the right of prosecution in the case of five directors of National Art Theatre, Iganmu Lagos, alleged of collecting N500, 000, gratification each.
The exchange of words started when the matter was called for the plea of the suspects to be taken, and two lawyers, Dr. Celsius Ukpong, from the SPPRPP, Mr. A. K. Alilu, from the office of the AGF announced their appearance as prosecutors in the same matter.
The five directors are George Ufot Ukanta, Abiodun Abe, Femi Joel, Ndubuisi Nwogu and Mrs. Doris Okafor, wife of a retired army General.
At the resumed hearing of the matter today, Ukpong, after announcing his appearance for the prosecution told the court that the business for the day is the arraignment of the suspects.
Immediately after Ukpong’s submission, Alilu, also stood up and announced his appearance as prosecutor.
Alilu told the court that he has the AGF’s directive to take over the matter.
He consequently, asked for a short adjournment to enable him take over the case file and study it.
Surprised by Alilu’s announcement and submission, Ukpong, rose to his feet and asked the court to discountenance Alilu’s appearance.
Ukpong told the court that he did not believe that there is any AGF’s instruction, describing Alilu’s appearance as an ambush.
He said, “we are in the same office, he knows where to get us, they have all the time to inform us officially, we are not private counsel, if they have special interest in this matter, they should let us know.
“I filed this charge as a staff of SPPRPP, created under Section 1(1) of the Recovery of Public Properties Special Provisions Act, 2004 and I filed this charge for the AGF”.
Ukpong said, “we don’t have issues about the power of the AGF to take over this matter or any matter whatsoever, he (the AGF) has the power to do so but due process must be followed.
“Anybody can’t just jump up in the court and say I am representing the AGF. We are in the same office, they have to write us and ask for the case file. It is not for the counsel to come to court and cause confusion. I asked that the defendants be arraigned, and subsequently, the AGF can do the necessary thing and take over the case”.
Responding, counsel from the AGF’s office, Alilu said, ” I don’t know why the counsel is taking it personal. I am from the AGF’s office, Department of Public Prosecution, we do not oppose to anybody being tried or charged, but our position is that due process must be followed.
“We are aware that SPPRPP filed this charge, but the AGF has the power to take over any matter at any stage, by the provisions of Section 174 (1) of the 1999 of Constitution”.
Ruling on the submissions of the two counsel, the trial judge, Justice Muslim Hassan, held that on the issue of the representation, Section 174(1) of the constitution gave the AGF the power to institute case against any person or persons, to take over case at any stage, and to discontinue any case against any person or persons.
Hassan further ruled that the AGF is not bound to give any reasons for taking over any case, adding that Alilu is an officer of the AGF, and can validly take over any matter on the directive of the AGF since it is not in dispute that he is from AGF’s office.
After the count’s ruling on the appearance of counsel, lawyer to all the defendants, Adamu Muhammed, told the court that his clients are having two applications before the court.
One of the applications he said is a preliminary objection challenging the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the charge, while the other is bail applications of his clients.
Adamu however told the court that he will wait till the next adjourned date.
The matter has been adjourned till June 13, for the arraignment of all defendants.
They five directors were charged before the court by the SPPRPP for allegedly receiving the sum of N500, 000 each from contractors.
The SPPRPP in a charge marked FHC/L/282c/18 alleged that the five accused persons on January 16, 2017, obtained the sum of N500, 000, each from a commercial firm, Market Execution Solution Limited, which has a contract with the Federal Government of Nigeria, in the course of discharging their duty.
The offence according to the charge is contrary to Section 10(1) g& (2) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, and punishable under section 1(2) & and 10(1)(a) of the Recovery of the Public Property (Special Provisions) Act.