By Tobi Soniyi and Adebiyi Adedapo
A fresh controversy is raging over who has the right to lay claim to the $15 million allegedly used by the former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, to bribe a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.
A lawyer, Timipa Okponipere, who was the first to file an application to get the money paid to the government and people of Delta State has filed an application at the Court of Appeal in Abuja asking that the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Delta State, Mr. Charles Ajuyah (SAN), be disqualified from collecting the money.
Okponipere, who said he filed his application to collect the money ‘for and on behalf of the government and people of Delta State,’ is now seeking the intervention of the Court of Appeal to determine the issue in controversy, saying that the Federal High Court having failed to hear his application within seven days, had lost the jurisdiction to hear the case.
In his notice of appeal, he asked for the following: “A declaration that the 1999 Constitution (as amended) recognised only one Delta State with its headquarters at Asaba.
“An application that by the virtue of the suit, the applicant is the only lawful attorney for the government and people of Delta State recognised by the constitution with regard to the recovery of the alleged $15 million bribed money offered by Chief James Onanefe Ibori.
“A declaration that the applicant’s authority to represent the government and people of Delta State in the suit was derived from fundamental human rights enforcement procedure rules 2009 and therefore the authority stands irrevocable.
“A declaration that the applicant having filed the suit for and on behalf of government and people of Delta State, the 4th respondent (AG Delta State) was no longer a competent authority to pursue the rights of the state over the same subject matter.
“A declaration that the 4th respondent’s continued insistence on representing the government and people of Delta State over the matter in spite of the suit was an abuse of the judicial process as well as abuse of privilege of power.”
He also sought an injunction restraining the Federal High Court in Abuja from determining any pending suit or application which may have been brought before it by any of the named respondents pertaining to the alleged $15 million pending the determination of his application before the Court of Appeal.
Although, he admitted that he was not briefed by the state, he claimed that he brought his application under the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedures.
In an affidavit he personally deposed to and attached to his application at the high court, he said: “In filing this application, I am acting in the public interest.
“I believe as a lawyer, no section of Nigeria should be denied their fundamental rights.”
Okponipere also asked the Court of Appeal to declare that the application filed by him at the Federal High Court in Abuja on July 27, 2012, was filed pursuant to Fundamental Human Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 under Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
He asked the appellate court to hold that the suit being an application for the enforcement of fundamental human rights ought to be fixed for hearing within seven days from the day the application was filed.
He asked the court for a “declaration that the failure, refusal and/or otherwise negligence of the Federal High Court to fix the suit for hearing within seven days from the day the application was filed was tantamount to a descend into the arena of conflict and therefore amounted to a denial of fair hearing of the applicant.”
Consequently he asked the Court of Appeal to hold that
the lower was no longer a competent judicial authority to determine the suit because he had been denied fair hearing.
He further asked for the following declarations: That the Court of Appeal shall have full jurisdiction to determine the suit instituted.
“An order quashing any temporal order of forfeiture made by the Federal High Court Abuja division to grant to Federal Government the alleged $15 million.
It will be recalled that last Monday the Delta State Government formally asked the Federal Government to release to the money to it.
The state’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice asked the court to order that the alleged bribe money be paid to the government and people of Delta State.
Before the application, the court had ordered that the money be temporary forfeited to the Federal Government and would be finally forfeited if within 14 days after the publication of an advertorial pertaining to the interim order, no one came forward to claim ownership of the money.