N1.4B Fraud: Court Vacates Arrest Order Against Akwa-Ibom Officials
Story by Gbenga Ogunbufunmi
Justice Mohammed Aikawa of a Federal High Court, Lagos, today, vacated the Bench warrant issued against three officials of Akwa-Ibom state government and one, Margaret Ukpe, who are named in alleged N1.4 billion fraud against the President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Paul Usoro (SAN)
This was sequel to the granting of an application dated March 4, 2019, asking that the Bench warrant be set aside.
The court had on March 1, 2019, upon a request by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), ordered the arrest of the officials.
The officials who were said to be at large are: Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan; Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Uwemedimo Nwoko and the Accountant General of the state, Mfon Udomah.
They were alleged to have conspired with the NBA President to commit the offence of money laundering.
Arguing the application against the Bench warrant, applicants lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), noted that the court has no jurisdiction over his clients as no charge is yet to be filed against them by the EFCC.
He noted that the tussle dated back to February 2017, when the Akwa-Ibom government sued the EFCC at a Federal High Court in Uyo over the harassment of its officials by the anti-graft agency.
He alleged that despite a subsisting order of the Uyo’s court asking the anti-graft agency to cease all action pending the conclusion of the case, the officials are still being harassed by the EFCC.
“The Attorney-General of Akwa-Ibom was the one personally conducting the Uyo’s case. The court later asked parties to stay all actions pending the conclusion of the case.
“Initially the order was obeyed by the EFCC, but it later sommersaulted and commenced a new waive of harassment of the officials.
“The Attorney-General later went physically to the Abuja office of the EFCC to lodge complaints, but when nothing changed, contempt proceedings were commenced against EFCC”, Ozekhome said.
Ozekhome also faulted the EFCC for asking the court for issuance of Bench warrant against his clients when there was no record that they ignored lawful summon.
While urging the court to vacate the Bench warrant, Ozekhome undertook to ensure that the applicants are available to answer to any charge that may be filed against them by the EFCC
Responding, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, said in view of the applicants’ lawyer’s undertaken that he will ensure his clients availability once a charge is filed against them, he will not be opposing the application.
The Bench warrant was subsequently vacated by Justice Aikawa.
At today’s proceedings, the court also took arguments on another motion by Governor Emmanuel Udom of Akwa-Ibom state challenging the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the case.
Arguing the motion, Udom’s lawyer, Dr. Charles Mekwunye, said EFCC has no locus to bring the action as the Constitution in Section 128 has outlined how any excesses of a state governor can be checkmated.
He said it is illegal for the EFCC to put the governor’s name in the charge as he still enjoys immunity as enshrined in Section 308 of the Constitution.
The EFCC’s lawyer while opposing the motion said the court’s power to hear and determine money laundering related offences against all persons is not in doubt.
He insisted that Governor Udom is not a party in the case.
After listening to the submissions of parties, Justice Aikawa fixed May 30, 2019 as the date to rule on the contentious matter.