Former Governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva
By Tobi Soniyi
A Federal High Court in Abuja Tuesday renewed its order for the forfeiture of the properties belonging to former Governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, and extended it to January 24.
At the resumed hearing of two cases involving the former governor, the court agreed with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)’s prosecutor, Mr Festus Keyamo, that there was need to extend the order.
Keyamo had argued that there was a need to extend the order so as to prevent the former governor from disposing the properties which would then become difficult to reposses if he was found guilty of the alleged financial crimes for which he was standing trial before the other court.
Sylva’s lawyer, Mr Benson Ibezim, however opposed the application by EFCC to extend the lifespan of the order.
Ibezim contended that the court made the order in error and upon a suppression of facts by the anti-graft agency.
He told the court that he had filed a motion challenging the competency of the suit.
In resolving the issue, the judge, Justice R. A. Mohammed, noted that it was on the basis of that temporary confiscation order that they were all before the court and observed that without the order, the application brought by Sylva challenging the competency of the suit would not be heard.
The court went on to extend the life of the order till January 24 and directed Keyamo to put Sylva’s lawyers on notice for them to make contribution to the application for the extension of the order as well as to hear all the pending applications.
Meanwhile, another Federal High Court will on February 20 decide on whether or not to quash the six-count charge of fraud and criminal conversion of over N2billion filed against Slyva by EFCC.
Justice Adamu Bello gave the date after hearing arguments in support of the application by Sylva to quash the charges against him, made on his behalf by Lateef Fagbemi (SAN).
Sylva is challenging the competence of the charge and the fact that the proof of evidence did not establish any prima facie case against him.
Fagbemi urged the court to throw out the case since the charges constituted an abuse of court process.
Citing relevant legal authorities to support his position, Fagbemi submitted that it was trite law that once a charge constituted an abuse of the court process, the court should decline its jurisdiction to hear it.
Fagbemi told the court that the charge as presently constituted was an abuse of court process which the court should not hesitate to dismiss.
He argued that there was no nexus between the charge, the proof of evidence attached to it and the former governor and concluded that there was no basis for Sylva’s trial on the face of the proof of evidence.
Fagbemi further contended that charge and the proof of evidence filed by the anti graft agency was defective and as such an abuse of the court’s process and urged the court to dismiss the charge.
He told the court that section 36 of the 1999 Constitution which made provisions for fair hearing had made adequate safeguards for an accused person’s rights but that the charge failed to disclose any wrong doing by his client having not shown any connection between his client and the crimes allegedly committed.
However, Keyamo, who is prosecuting Sylva opposed the application to quash the charges. He asked the court to discounteance Fagbemi’s argument.
He argued that the purpose of a proof of evidence was to provide a general information about a crime that one had been alleged to have committed and did not preclude the prosecution from bringing further evidence in the course of the trial.
He said that all the prosecution was asking for was to be allowed, through trial, to show that the former governor committed the crime which the anti graft agency accused him of.
Relying on the cases of another former governor of the state, Mr. DSP Alamiesiegha and that of former chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Olabode George, both of whom were convicted on charges brought against them by the EFCC, Keyamo faulted Sylva’s position that the alleged crimes were committed by his commissioners and not him personally.
He pointed out that statements of a former commissioner of finance in the state while Sylva was the governor of the state, one Dr. Sylva Opuala, as well as that of the then Accountant General of the state, Mr. Francis Okokuro, both of whom were standing trial on criminal charges at another court, revealed that they carried out the alleged fraudulent financial transactions under the instructions of the former governor.
In conclusion, Keyamo told the court that the interest of justice would best be served if the prosecution is allowed to lead evidence in proof of the charges in the course of trial.
The court, presided by Justice Adamu Bello, thereafter adjourned till Wednesday, February 20 for ruling.