A Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja yesterday struck out the suit filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against the embattled former Federal High Court Judge, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, saying it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
Ofili-Ajumogobia was charged alongside a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Obla, before Justice Hakeem Oshodi on a 31-count charge.
Ofili-Ajumogobia was arraigned for alleged perversion of the course of justice, unlawful enrichment and forgery, while Obla was alleged to have offered N5 million gratification to the judge.
While ruling on the application challenging the authority of the court, Oshodi held that he had no jurisdiction to hear the matter.
The Counsel to Ofili-Ajumogobia, Chief Robert Clarke, filed the application dated November 27, 2018. He prayed the court to discharge and acquit his client based on the Appeal Court ruling on Nganjuwa vs FRN.
Oshodi said: “As at Monday, December 11, 2017, the EFCC was aware of the decision reached by the Court of Appeal in Nganjuwa vs FRN. As at that date, the amended information was yet to be filed and the twelfth prosecution witness was still giving evidence.
“The prosecution persisted like a bull running amok and still called two more witnesses and precious judicial time was wasted. We have not found a way in the judicial atmosphere to discipline or penalise an agency of government through fines or costs. In conclusion, the court has no jurisdiction to hear the first amended charge of February 21, 2018 of 31-counts. This suit is hereby struck out.”
It would be recalled that on January 25, 2019, the EFCC conceded that the court lacked jurisdiction based on the Appeal Court decision in Nganjuwa vs FRN. In the case, Justice Obaseki Adejumo said EFCC does not have power to investigate and prosecute serving judicial officers. He noted that a judicial officer must first be stripped of his duty before he can be charged.
The Court of Appeal judge held that serving judicial officers could only be prosecuted for offences like murder, stealing etc. done outside the discharge of their duties. He ruled that if the offence was committed in the discharge of their duties, they must first be tried by NJC.
There was however a mild drama on the court premises as the EFCC sought to apprehend Ofili-Ajumogobia after the charges were struck out.
About 10 officials of the commission approached her as she tried to leave the courtroom. On sighting them, she beat a retreat and sought the protection of the court.
When Oshodi was notified about the development, he said there was nothing he could do as “the file has been closed.”
The former judge and her husband who was with her were seen frantically making phone calls.
Obla left the premises immediately after ruling.
EFCC officials thereafter whisked Ofili-Ajumogobia away in a white Hilux van with Abuja number plate BWR 63780.
The commission in a statement said it re-arrested Ofili-Ajumogobia to prefer a fresh criminal charge against her.
It said this was in line with the decision of the Appeal Court, Lagos Division, in a case involving Justice Hyeladzira Nganjuwa, where it was stated that a judge could not be prosecuted until he or she had either been dismissed or compulsorily retired by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The EFCC said given the fact that it had presented Ofili-Ajumogobia before the NJC for disciplinary action and the NJC had taken a position, it would now approach the court to prefer fresh charges against her.
Reacting to the development, former Minister of Aviation Femi Fani Kayode said: “EFCC’s case against Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia was thrown out by Justice Oshodi of the Ikeja High Court today with harsh words. Despite this she was held hostage by the EFCC on the court premises for one hour and now she has been re-arrested and taken to their Lagos office.”
Fani-Kayode who was discharged and acquitted by the embattled judge in 2015 on money laundering charges said: “Despite the fact that she is innocent of any wrongdoing, despite the fact that she is a lady, despite the fact that she has been subjected to and suffered immense trauma due to this case over the last two years and despite the fact that one of her legs is now broken and in a cast… This is not justice; it is sheer wickedness. I appeal to President Buhari to put a stop to this wholesale, vindictive and vicious persecution and call the EFCC to order. If we do not fear man, we should at least fear God.”
In separate court matters yesterday, Justice Hussein Baba Yusuf of an FCT High Court, Maitama discharged the suspended director general of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Dr Mounir Gwarzo, on charges of N115 million fraud.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had charged Gwarzo and an executive commissioner in the agency, Zakawanu Garuba, on five counts of alleged misappropriation of about N115 million and conferment of corrupt advantage on a public officer .
The judge held that the prosecution did not establish any prima facie case against the defendants. He held that the prosecution failed to establish the essential elements of the offence for which the defendants were charged and subsequently discharged them.
Furthermore, Baba-Yusuf issued a warrant to the director general, Department of State Services (DSS) to produce Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) in court to face trial on May 24.
Dasuki, a former National Security Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan, was arraigned by the EFCC since 2015.
On trial with him are Aminu Baba-Kusa, a former NNPC executive director, and two firms, Acacia Holdings and Reliance Referral Hospital.
They were charged on 32 counts of criminal breach of trust, misappropriation and dishonest release and receipt of N33.3 billion.
Meanwhile, a Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Chief Malcom Omirhobo, has filed an action at the Federal High Court, Abuja, asking the court to stop President Muhammadu Buhari from appointing the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Muhammad Tanko as substantive CJN.
Defendants in the suit filed in the name of Malcom Omirhobo Foundation and marked FHC/AbJ/420/2019 are: National Judicial Council (NJC), Federal Judicial Service Commission, the acting CJN, Federal Government of Nigeria, Nigerian president, Attorney General of the Federation and the National Assembly.
The applicant is also asking the court to declare that by the combined interpretation of the letter and spirit of Sections 1(1)(2), 231(4), 292(1)(a)(i)(b), 153(1)(i), 158(1) and paragraph 21 (a)(b) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, it was unlawful and undemocratic for the fourth and fifth defendants to declare the office of the CJN vacant on January 25, 2019 and consequently appoint and swear in the third defendant as acting CJN.
He also wants the court to declare that the suspension and/or removal of the CJN from office is a shared responsibility of the first defendant, fifth defendant and seventh defendant and that the fifth defendant (Buhari) does not have power under the law to unilaterally suspend and/or remove the CJN from office.
The applicant is also praying the court to declare that the acting CJN, having conducted himself in a manner that casts doubt on the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and having made himself a tool in the violation of the constitution, is not fit to be recommended for appointment to the office of the CJN.